Creative consultations

Published in Features on 2 Mar 2015

I work for LGBT Health and Wellbeing, supporting services working with older people to become more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This is a valuable opportunity to affect change – and I want it to be the change that older LGBT people actually want to see! 

In a consultation, there are a whole range of ways to answer the question “what do you want from services?”. Do you dream big? Or do you go for smaller, more immediately practical recommendations? What about understanding the emotional sides of discrimination, support and care? All these aspects are important – so how do we capture them?
There’s also the need to communicate the answers effectively, inspiringly, and supportively to professionals – and I don’t want to change people’s words and lose things in translation. So consultations need to result in some ready-to-go messages which are impactful and meaningful.

I’m also a poet, and I’ve both taught and participated in poetry workshops. The challenges of this kind of consultation reminded me of putting together a poetry workshop – you can’t just sit everyone down and say “write a poem!” any more than you can say “tell me what you want from services!”. It’s too big, and not very helpful.
A key thing in a poetry workshop is to give just enough structure and inspiration to support people to find ways to say exactly what it is that they want to say, without boxing them in. This means encouraging people to look at the question differently, or to find a new angle to communicate their answers by, but ultimately it’s about being creative in drawing out and looking after everyone’s own truth.

I recently had an opportunity to try out a creative approach to consultation, when I put together a Top Ten Tips booklet – a practical resource which I make available to professionals and use in training sessions. LGBT Health had already done some great research, which was an invaluable basis to work from. But I also wanted older LGBT people to have direct input into the publication. 
One consultation took the form of three questions, which aimed to cover both dreaming big and being practical:
•    You have the chance to put a message up in neon lights, or on a billboard. You only have a few words, because these things are expensive. What do you say?
•    You find a genie who will grant wishes to do with LGBT equality. What do you wish for?
•    If you could give service providers one top tip, what would it be?

Another consultation was part of our Lifelines storytelling project. Through a ‘wish tree’ and arts workshops, participants creatively responded to their experiences with services and their hopes for the future – which we then added right into the Top Tips booklet, adding a really engaging and creative aspect to the resource.

Using creativity in consultations doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult – it can be as easy as asking interesting questions which spark the imagination. I would love to see creative consultations used by organisations as they work on LGBT inclusion: it’s a supportive way to hear what people have to say – and an inspiring and impactful method of understanding what’s at stake.

hands with writting on them