Before the session

Last updated: 28th April 2021

Encourage and motivate people to get involved

So you’ve decided to set up an Experts by Experience (EbE) group, or you want to grow an existing group, but how do you get in touch with experts and encourage them to join? What can you do to build interest in the group? 

Recruit! Contact experts, advertise the group, build interest

In our experience recruiting by word of mouth is a great place to start. People may feel more confident to try a group that has been recommended by someone they know and trust, or if they know someone who has already joined. If you already have some members or a few people who are interested in the group, try asking them to help with recruitment.

Sharing information about the EbE group with participants in other activities, groups or services in your organisation is another good way to recruit new members. You could place posters in places that people will see them, saying something like ‘Do you want your voice to be heard? Learn about campaigning and get involved!’ You could even call people you think might be interested and tell them about some of the issues you plan to work on. They might be inspired to get involved and have some suggestions of their own!

It really helps to make the purpose of the group clear, to let people know what they can do and what will be expected of them. Some may feel reluctant to join if they don’t feel they will have anything in common with others in the group. Thinking of a few interesting topics that focus on people’s shared experience for your first session would help!

It's important to try and create a group that is balanced, including in terms of age, gender and cultural background (depending on the purpose of your group), so that you can reflect the widest possible range of views and experiences. You will be more effective in advocating for change this way and you will also have created a group that is inclusive and welcoming to all. 

Hold an induction or information session

In our experience recruiting by word of mouth is a great place to start. People may feel more confident to try a group that has been recommended by someone they know and trust, or if they know someone who has already joined. If you already have some members or a few people who are interested in the group, try asking them to help with recruitment.

Sharing information about the EbE group with participants in other activities, groups or services in your organisation is another good way to recruit new members. You could place posters in places that people will see them, saying something like ‘Do you want your voice to be heard? Learn about campaigning and get involved!’ You could even call people you think might be interested and tell them about some of the issues you plan to work on. They might be inspired to get involved and have some suggestions of their own!

It really helps to make the purpose of the group clear, to let people know what they can do and what will be expected of them. Some may feel reluctant to join if they don’t feel they will have anything in common with others in the group. Thinking of a few interesting topics that focus on people’s shared experience for your first session would help!

It's important to try and create a group that is balanced, including in terms of age, gender and cultural background (depending on the purpose of your group), so that you can reflect the widest possible range of views and experiences. You will be more effective in advocating for change this way and you will also have created a group that is inclusive and welcoming to all. 

Prepare for sessions

One thing is very clear from our experience of facilitating groups - be prepared! Participants in EbE groups told us that good preparation before sessions made all the difference to them - it allowed them to really get involved in meetings and enjoy them! 

Assess barriers to participation and address them

A good place to start is to find out from participants in your EbE group what they need so that they can join meetings and take part fully (sometimes called a ‘needs assessment’). You could talk to people individually, have a group discussion as part of an induction meeting, or ask them to fill out a brief survey. 

Things to consider

For online meetings digital access is key to make your group as inclusive as possible.

Do people have access to a smartphone, tablet or laptop? Do they have access to the internet and enough data? Can you help to provide any of these things if people do not have them?

You will need to find out whether people have experience of using meeting apps such as Zoom or Microsoft teams and other apps such as Miro that you might use to facilitate interactive sessions. If not, you could arrange training sessions ahead of your first group meeting or ask those with experience to help others get up to speed. You will probably need to make sure someone is responsible for helping people during meetings with technical issues as they arise!

You may also want to talk to people about whether they have a quiet place where they will be able to join an online meeting without being disturbed. You probably can’t help with this but it would help for people to think it through ahead of time. 

Language is a source of anxiety for many people and a potential barrier to participation. Assuming you will conduct meetings in English, you will need to know if anyone will struggle to understand what others are saying, or to say what they want to say. This will help you to prepare written materials and activities that are accessible to people with limited English language skills. You may also want to think about how to support people with interpreters or more informally through the help of other group members with stronger language skills (see below). 

We know that lack of confidence can also be a real barrier to people joining in and having their say in group meetings, so it’s a good idea to assess how confident different group members are at an early stage and think about how you will support everyone to take part (see section x below for more on this).

Share an agenda before the session

In your agenda, include the purpose of session, topics for discussion, preparation tasks, expectations, preliminary ground rules.

Helping people to prepare for sessions is a really important part of the role of a facilitator. We find that if we clearly set out the purpose of the session, topics for discussion and any tasks that people are expected to do, and share all this in advance, it puts people at ease and they feel included in the meeting from the beginning. It also helps to build people’s confidence.

This can be done in the form of an agenda, which sets out the topics and order of discussion, with expected timings, and any responsibilities that are shared between participants, such as presenting, or note taking. It’s important to make sure everyone will have the chance to contribute, so allow enough time for each topic of discussion. If you need people to do things before the meeting such as reading documents or thinking about an issue, make that clear!

EbE group participants confirmed all this, also telling us how important it is for them to know what will be expected of them in the meeting, so they are not taken by surprise with requests to do something or by particular topics. This is especially important when sensitive topics of discussion are planned; people need to know in advance so that they can prepare themselves or even choose not to attend.

It might be good to share a draft group agreement in advance as well, to make sure everyone comes to the meeting with a shared understanding of how they will be expected to conduct themselves. The group agreement can then be reviewed together and agreed at the beginning of each session (see below).

EBE group participants also said how important it is for facilitators to think about people’s different language skills. They suggested that materials and information shared before meetings is written in plain language, using short sentences, so that it is accessible to everyone. You could also consider using audio/visual materials, which some people might find easier to understand.

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