Forums offer a tool for facilitating discussions involving larger groups of people. Typically forum sessions commence with a presentation or panel discussion from a group of experts, followed by questions and answers between the panel and the audience.

As a Co-Design tool, forums provide a vehicle for drawing out major themes of interest from a wide group of consumers and carers, and for pooling the knowledge and expertise of an entire group. Key themes suggesting consumer priorities will often emerge in a forum. Ideas and suggestions for addressing these issues may be solicited from the wider group and subsequently explored and investigated further.

Co-design tools work best when there is something in them for everyone. Consumers and carers need to get as much out of using them as health professionals do.

One of the limitations of forums is that not everyone feels comfortable about sharing their experience, voicing their opinion or posing a question in a large group situation. It is therefore important to balance the use of forums with complementary Co-Design tools that cater to smaller group settings. Scheduling a Q&A forum to follow focus groups creates an opportunity for questions to be raised with the support of several people, where one individual alone may not have been confident doing so otherwise.

Running an Effective Forum

In our experience, a number of factors should be considered when organising a forum:

  • Schedule a Q&A forum to follow other activities that have served as icebreakers, allowed for networking and stimulated questions around issues of common interest.
  • Create an expert panel that includes both professionals, consumers and carers (ideally with years of experience of managing the issues of interest to the group).
  • Appoint a facilitator to keep discussion moving, involve as many audience members as possible and moderate as necessary.
  • Do not limit discussion to fixed, pre-determined themes and allow topics of interest to come up of their own accord.
  • Keep presentations and panel discussions short and concise so that the majority of time can be dedicated to responding to questions and ideas raised by the audience.
  • Allow questions and answers to flow freely, without judgment or obstruction until they have reached their natural resolution or conclusion.
  • Record questions and responses so that key issues can be identified, proposed ideas reviewed, and areas for investigation pursued.
  • Provide feedback to all participants about information shared, key lessons learned, themes identified and actions taken.
  • Conduct an evaluation to establish whether participants were satisfied with the forum process and how it could be improved.
  • Evaluation processes (such as questionnaires) also provide an opportunity for input from individuals who were uncomfortable to speak within a large group format.

It is critical that health professionals prioritise listening over talking in forum discussions and are open to new issues and ideas being raised. Their technical advice and expertise will be welcomed by the group, but it is essential they listen to what is being asked, identify gaps and concerns, ask questions and highlight new information.

Clinicians with extensive experience in the management of a particular condition may believe that they already know what is and isn’t necessary in creating care plans around it. However, things change constantly – more information from around the world is available to consumers and carers than ever before – and their needs and expectations change. By actively listening to the collective experience of the families who live with a condition, clinicians have the opportunity to improve their practice and deliver higher standards of care.