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Meet the team: #softandfluffy


  • • Phil Walters- Creative Minds (Q member)
  • • Barry Percy Smith- University of Huddersfield
  • • Gary Copitch- Peoples Voice Media

Our Service Users tell us that creative activities are good for wellbeing. They not only promote faster recovery rates, but can be life transforming.  Although we know this, from our experience the benefits of creative approaches are really hard to capture. Service Users want to spend time doing activities, not filling in evaluation forms or completing on line surveys. Those that do complete evaluation forms, only give us a limited picture of the experiences of those who are willing to engage, leaving a gap in capturing wider service user experience and lack of evidence around impact of activities.

We have spoken to those who access our creative activities through Creative Minds about what would work for them, and want to create new methods of evaluation to add to the range of other evaluation processes. This will turn what can be a challenge to our projects into something that could be a real asset to communities and fun for service users.

This matters as, if we can fully understand the impact of creative activities and “soft and fluffy” approaches this will allow us to plan future approaches around what works best, and to better evidence impact of activities.

Our aim is to develop a new means of evaluating “soft and fluffy” creative activities delivered by Creative Minds. This will provide evidence for the benefits of our work through developing a community reporting approach.

We will train service users as community reporters, who will collect snapshot stories from participants of our creative activities, providing unique insight into the benefits of creative activities. Initially we will focus on service user experience of our Good Mood Football League.

We will train four service user groups of around 10 participants from across the districts Calderdale, Barnsley, Kirklees and Wakefield, supporting them to develop skills in how to gather insight stories.

Using the ‘snapshot story’ method (a short form of storytelling), service users will record on film their own thoughts and feelings on their participation in activities, and then use this method to gather snapshot stories from other service users.  We will initially seek to gain stories from a total of 120 participants.

We will then support service users to make sense of the findings identified in story collections, picking our key themes and learning. They will reflect on the key messages from these stories in order to communicate these to decisions makers and service providers in conversation for change events as a form of learning to support the development of services.

We will work with Peoples Voice Media and University of Huddersfield to develop our approach who have experience of the community reporting approach, which we have trialled within our creative activities.

We hope to see the following benefits to services users:

  • Development of analytical and critical thinking skills, useful in a diversity of scenarios beyond the Community Reporting process.
  • Service Users learn digital communication skills and will be empowered to use these skills to connect their ideas with the people in a position to make positive social change.
  • Service User’s skills, confidence and emotional resilience are improved

Service Users will have access to the Institute of Community Reporters website and continue to post stories of their lived experience once the project ends.

Staff benefits include:

  • Dialogue and inquiry inform and support innovation in service design, delivery and evaluation.
  • Messages from community reporting challenge thinking and practice
  • Messages support embedding community reporting into policy and practice learning processes in order to sustain participation of mental health service users in ways that can bring about real innovation and change for patient benefit.

National drivers promote a general move away from an expert controlled health system to one that is much more in the hands of the individual and community. We believe that empowerment of individuals through participatory and service user-led approaches such as community reporting and co-production with policy and practice professionals are key to taking this agenda forward.

Our evaluation stories will appear on the web site and distributed to the community reporter network. Learning will be shared with the Q community, giving wider access to service user insights that are developed.

How you can contribute

  • What other innovative peer evaluation methods members use or if anybody else is doing something similar If there is interest from nearby Q members in collaboration to support spread of this approach

Further information

Q-Exchange-Proposal-FINAL (DOCX, 19KB)

Reviewer feedback

This is a great project because…

The project team have made a strong case for using participatory research methods to develop evidence for interventions like creative activities which can be hard to evidence in other ways. We liked the peer led approach and the emphasis on story telling.

By the time of the event we encourage the project team to think more about…

The project team should consider how they can share learning with Q community - both about the results of the research, but also what they have learnt about the process of developing community reporters.


  1. Guest

    Fabulous idea, I can see this approach making a real difference to both service users and those designing and delivering services - Good luck

    1. Thank you Jill, we know these approaches work, its just getting the evidence out there for those that can fund services to realise the true value of these type of approaches.

  2. Agree that we need more creative and friendly ways to capture service user experiences. The snapshot story method has the potential to generate valuable data. I’m wondering what mechanisms you will use to carry out co-production with policy and practice professionals. You may also be interested in Rita Charon’s work on narrative medicine:

    1. Thank you for your comments. I will look at that narrative and see if we can pull any ideas from it to help with the evaluation. Our work is covered nationally and we are working with NHSE to produce something that can be transferred across the country to other MH trusts. This is more an evaluation tool of what we do and the impact that it can make to peoples lives that is often difficult to realise the true value of.

  3. I really like this proposal - good luck Debbie.

  4. I like this title! As you know, we had many discussions during the Q Lab work about the difficulties of accurately reflecting the benefits of peer support and to evidence its effectiveness, and I can see how creative activities can pose similar difficulties. Utilising stories to capture lived-experiences, as a form of evidence directly leads on from some of the Q Lab work. I’m sure you’ve already read the Q Lab Essay, but here is the link for essay 2 which includes some of this work, including the prototype storytelling topography: Really pleased to see a Lab collaboration happening too!

    1. Thanks Hawys for your comment. It is always a hard one to negotiate because we see things from different perspectives. What really matters to me might not matter to you and vice versa. But its about that person thinking and feeling as valued and content as possible.

  5. Guest

    Love this Debbie, And hi to my old friend Gary, good to see you part of this team.

    I did some work with Big Lottery on using video and social media for evaluation purposes back in 2011, which took very much this kind of approach, but it has not really caught on until recently.

    Stories of change have to be more powerful than statistics at the end of the day

    1. Thank you John, It is hard to quantify things sometimes and that is what I am hoping to capture here. Its not just the costs of the savings to the NHS or other departments its about the quality of someones life. How do we capture it but also in a way that evaluates what we do? We are constantly asked to evaluate and prove that we are making a difference and hopefully this will go some way to that. I totally agree about the stories, people remember and respond to them. I have just been nominated as 1 of the top 70 standout stars of the NHS, I have only been working in the NHS less than 3 years, how can we capture that? I am just 1 person, we have a whole host of others who have stories of improvement to tell.

  6. Love your defence of the soft and fluffy Debbie. Your project sounds has some similarities to Storying Sheffield and Sheffiled Flourish, have you seen their websites?

    1. Hi Helen no I havent, but will try and look at them. We just find it incredibly difficult to evaluate what the real impacts are to the services we produce. It really annoys me that people call 'soft and fluffy' approaches not worthy. A 'soft and fluffy' approach saved my life, it transformed it beyond recognition, but it is hard to put that into practice and evaluation. This is in some way to achieve that and hopefully harness and embrace the power of the 'soft and fluffy' approaches having value and worth within evaluation.

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