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21 January 2020 by Charlotte Hall

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TED, the global community that brings together the world’s leading thinkers to share ideas, created TEDx, a programme of local, volunteer-led events that bring together people to share a TED-like experience – and so TEDxNHS was born.

TEDxNHS is an event for our people, organised by our people. 

It is an event whose conception was about helping our people to reflect upon the wonderful things they do every day as a part of our NHS. Every member of the TEDxNHS organising team applied for their role in a voluntary capacity over and above their existing NHS job. In a time when we see our NHS stretched far beyond its capacity, this in itself is a testament to the ethos of TEDxNHS and to the people within our system that go above and beyond every day to make a difference.

At the start of last year, as the 2019 organising team, we sat in a room to try to decide the story that we wanted to tell, what messages were important to us and what we wanted to say through the platform of TED. I for one could not have even imagined at that point exactly what that platform could do, or the power of TEDxNHS.

We spoke for hours. We spoke about our people, the value of our people and the importance in our people knowing their value. We wanted to recognise the importance of a positive workplace culture, of compassionate leadership, of psychological safety and protected mental wellbeing for our staff. We wanted to talk about the very big difference that the small things can make in the delivery of quality patient care, to challenge hierarchy and to celebrate the wonderful gift that is our National Health Service.

We also spoke a lot about equality and equity and the importance of levelling the playing field for those that face discrimination in our society. So many areas of society were discussed, so many personal stories and experiences of discrimination. As a team we were unbelievably passionate about inclusion and fairness and understanding things from as many different perspectives as possible. We wanted to stand up for those who aren’t treated with these values and ask the question, why?

Finally we spoke about thinking differently, about innovation, about improving things for the patients we are here to serve. We spoke about the importance of disrupting norms, challenging the status quo, the importance of ideas. But not only the importance of ideas, the importance of spreading ideas, sharing knowledge and working together for a better future.

And so we developed our three themes – Open Hearts: A celebration of workforce, exploring wellbeing and culture; Progressive Steps: A journey to explore equity and equality to shape our health system for the better; and Divergent Thoughts: A platform for innovation, spreading ideas and disrupting norms through sharing knowledge.

Ultimately the thing that came most from our discussion was that we have 1.5million amazing individuals in our NHS. We began to imagine what might happen if we were to all come together to consider the topics we had been discussing. We began to consider the unbelievable power that we would have if we were greater than the sum of our parts. This is where the dream began for a small group of us, in a small boardroom one evening in London, to inspire our system to consider what we could achieve by working ‘Beyond our Component Parts’.

Almost a year later, I couldn’t have imagined how inspirational that journey would be. I was fortunate enough to be given the role of Head of Curation and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. As a curation team we sifted through hundreds of applications, humbled and heart-warmed by the incredible amount of amazing stories we read. How were we ever going to choose? Several rounds of elimination, interviews and discussion later we finally had our fifteen. And what an amazing group of individuals those people turned out to be.

As a team we felt honoured to be able to get to know them, to not only work with them but to share the depths of their incredibly personal experiences to help them to curate their talks. On average it takes 300 hours to curate a TED talk and across the team we spent a huge amount of time coaching and investing our own emotions into these stories. Just one of the many huge personal benefits to being a part of this journey was the relationships that were developed during this process.

To stand by the side of the TEDxNHS stage and watch people that I now cared so deeply about tell their stories, in words we had so carefully considered, and witness the reaction of the thousands of people watching was nothing short of awe-inspiring. With 1,200 people in the room and thousands more livestreaming, we trended number 6 in the UK on Twitter with almost 25 million impressions. The only thing I could really think was that if even one of those people was now to think differently about one of the topics our fabulous speakers had tackled then we had just done something worthwhile.

And what did I learn? Beside the incredible leadership journey I had just been on, the amazing developmental experience that TEDxNHS offered for my 2019, the friendships I had built and the stories I had heard, what had I learnt? 

I had learnt about the power of a social movement, the power of communication in the spread of an idea and the power of human emotion.

Working for an Academic Health Science Network I know how hard the spread and adoption of innovation is. We know that on average it takes 17 year to get an innovation adopted. We understand the barriers and the cultural challenges.

But if we go back to where our thought journey began, if I reflect on what I have been taught by the power of TEDxNHS, standing by that stage, witnessing the social movement we had created by going beyond our component parts, it is easy to see that it is our people that are the key. And how do we reach our people? Nothing will ever be more powerful than the human-to-human story. Our psychology as human beings, the emotion in how we communicate ideas, this is what starts a social movement and inspires large- scale change. It is our people that are the component parts and coming together is the only way we will ever be able to go beyond them.

You can find a number of the TEDxNHS talks we curated here

Charlotte Hall is the Innovation Agency’s Programme Manager for Engagement

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