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Open School Chapter leaders used public narrative to launch a successful semester of shared learning.
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Suffolk University Chapter Leaders Engage Members Through Public Narrative

By IHI Open School | Monday, June 5, 2017
Sharing stories is a powerful way to get to know the people you work with, and it can help a team explore shared values and chart a path forward. In an IHI Open School course that teaches community organizing and leadership skills, Leadership and Organizing for Change, learners craft a “public narrative,” or a story of their journey to leadership. They use their narrative to call others to action. 

In this blog post, we hear from Jesse Russell and Kristen Swain, leaders of the IHI Open School Chapter at Suffolk University who leveraged public narrative with their Chapter members to launch a successful semester of shared learning.

OS: How did you use public narrative to support the relaunch of the Suffolk University IHI Open School Chapter?

Jesse and Kristen: After several years of inactivity, the Suffolk Chapter was reestablished in fall 2016 with a new mission, structure, and leadership team. We held a focus group in September, in which several prospective members expressed interest in exploring one quality discipline each semester, to promote continuity and progress toward advanced learning. 

Professor Dwight McNeill [an advisor for the Chapter and a graduate of Leadership and Organizing for Change] suggested using public narrative as an introductory exercise at our first meeting in December. In his experience, recounting personal stories helps members of new teams relate to one another and come together as a cohesive unit with a shared purpose. Our leadership team adopted this idea as a strategic planning tool to introduce our mission, build connections, and collect feedback on the best topic for our inaugural curriculum in spring 2017.

From this narrative activity, we hoped to surface the reasons that drew our members to pursue a career in health care and quality improvement. Through this process, we identified the common theme of patient safety, which led us to develop our patient safety curriculum. It was a crystallizing experience.

OS: How did sharing stories help your Chapter set a theme for your semester of events? 

Jesse and Kristen: The stories we shared during the narrative exercise largely coalesced around medical harm. This theme was echoed in our post-meeting survey. Accordingly, our opening curriculum concentrated on learning the fundamentals of patient safety and the actions health care leaders can take to reduce harm. It ran from February to April 2017, and it included a “Patient Safety Scholars Program” that guided members through courses on patient safety in the Open School online course catalog and culminated in an awards ceremony for graduates, as well as a simulation of a root cause analysis using the IHI Open School Advanced Case Study resource.

OS: What was most meaningful about hearing Chapter members talk about their experiences in health care?

Jesse and Kristen: The level of willingness to share was impressive and unanticipated. We only expected a few members to volunteer their personal stories, but nearly everyone had something to contribute, and the session ended up consuming the entire meeting. Several stories elicited an emotional and heartfelt response from the group, which demonstrated that members felt safe and supported in sharing a private or vulnerable story. This experience helped generate enthusiasm and support for the Chapter.
Sharing a personal story helped to create a picture of health care and highlight the fact that everyone, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status, interacts with the industry in one way or another. We heard that all too often, these interactions lead to increased pain and suffering. This helped bring meaning to the Chapter and revealed what members hoped to achieve through their participation. 

OS: What advice would you share with IHI Open School Chapters (or other teams) who are interested in using public narrative to engage more deeply with their members?

Jesse and Kristen: We found the narrative approach useful for both strategic planning and team building. As such, we would recommend it to kick-start new Chapters or reinvigorate existing groups during leadership and/or member transitions. 

Recounting personal health care stories can provoke a strong emotional response, so it’s helpful to alert participants of the activity in advance. We encouraged students to prepare their narrative before the meeting, and afterward distributed a link to Dr. Berwick’s 1999 Forum Keynote to connect the exercise to the IHI’s mission and affirm our collective commitment and call to action.  

The Suffolk University Chapter was recognized by its peers as the “Most Improved Student Organization of the Year” at the Suffolk University Graduate Student Recognition Ceremony. Congratulations to the Chapter and thanks to Jesse Russell and Kristen Swain for sharing their experience!

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