I would like to start this reflective piece with two admissions – the first is that this is not the session I had planned to review. However, dancer Kate Stanforth, who was originally programmed to deliver her presentation “How a wheelchair changed my life”, was unwell, and this update was put together by Paul Hewett at late notice. It turned out to be an excellent round-up of what had been an interesting speed networking session.
This brings me to my second admission – the thought of networking raises the hair on the back of my neck. It conjures up images of forced small talk with people I don’t know, but feel I should be somehow furthering my career by talking to. Having to engage in networking at this, my first PMG conference, filled me with horror! I considered myself brave for having even attended the Speed Networking session. If, like me, the thought of networking makes you break out in a cold sweat, please don’t despair or stop reading.
In researching for this piece I looked for a definition of networking. The Collins English Dictionary (2019)'s first definition is “Uncountable noun: Networking is the process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job, often through social activities.” This sounds as bad as I had thought it would be! Luckily, the first definition in the American English section of the same dictionary, “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest”, sounds much less self-serving and more palatable. I thought of the people I had chatted to over coffee at the conference whilst discussing new ways of using and assessing equipment, building new skills and imparting those tricks which have made my life easier, and realised that this too is networking.
So what did the Speed Networking session involve?
An hour-and-a-half session, before the conference starts, designed to allow attendees to meet and discuss some topical aspects within our scope of practice. Four round table stations had been set up to discuss separate issues for twenty minutes each, after which participants moved on to the next station. This year the sessions were: Head restraint/head support (with Helen Nelson and Rebecca Hindle facilitating); Unmet need (Dave Long); Restraint (Susan Hillman); and Standards (Paul Dryer). See Standards station in the bottom right photograph. The top right photograph shows Paul Hewett leading the plenary review of the Speed Networking session. Seated from left to right are: Helen Critten-Rourke (PMG Conference Chair), Dave Long, Susan Hillman, Paul Dryer and Helen Nelson
The plenary session on Wednesday morning of conference provided a precis of each of the four discussions, of which the most interesting for me was that about restraint and its interaction with equipment provided to our clients. Prior to being an occupational therapist, I had worked as a carer for children with complex needs, including those for whom restraint was applied, so this felt familiar and relevant to me. There were themes that came up in all the groups going through this station – it is clearly a very complex issue and a legal and ethical minefield. The importance of recurrent and multi-disciplinary review of any practice which could be construed as restraint was highlighted by a number of people, to prevent wheelchair services becoming solely responsible for making decisions about appropriate use of their equipment as restraint. Listening to this discussion emphasised how responsibility, decision-making and budgetary responsibility need to be more widely assumed than just being the province of the wheelchair service. It has given me fresh insight, plus ideas of avenues to pursue in investigating this thorny issue.
The plenary round up of the networking session, whilst a late add-in to the conference programme, proved to be very good, especially for those who had not been to the networking event to hear for themselves, but also for all delegates to discuss the more contentious and interesting issues raised there. There was really useful insight which deserved to be heard by more than the people around the table at the time.
I would be very keen that this plenary session format becomes a fixture for the PMG conference, and would advocate it being so. It would also hopefully allow those networking-shy people like myself to see that there is a structure and purpose to the session which ensures that it does not feel like an awkward cocktail party!
Towards the end of the plenary session there was a request for suggestions of topics to be discussed next year. I am sure more ideas would be gratefully received, see below footnote. My topic of choice would be the use and provision of back supports – the pros and cons of different types, including moulded and off-the-shelf models. Provision seems to vary significantly from service to service, and it would be interesting to discover if there is any corroborating evidence.
Collins (2019) Networking, Collins English Dictionary. Accessed at: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/networking on 5th November 2022
Photographs courtesy of Clinton Davin
Footnote: please send your suggestions for Speed Networking topics at PMG Conference 2023 to email@example.com in the first instance. Thank you.