As the BMA Patient Information Awards reach their 20th year, I explore the qualities of award-winning projects and provide tips for future hopefuls.
For many, the BMA Patient Information Awards are the Oscars of the patient information world. Winning teams called to the Great Hall’s stage at the majestic BMA House carry a quiet excitement that could rival Charlie Bucket with his golden ticket.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in having felt slightly in awe and a wee bit smaller when confronted with a winning resource on that big screen.
The BMA established the Patient Information Awards in 1997 to celebrate excellence and – as a consequence – drive up standards in patient information. Richard Jones, Award Director, tells me that, over the past two decades, the quality of materials has rocketed as the development approach has become more evidence-based and collaborative.
Richard is humble about the Awards’ success, shying away from the term ‘revered’. Yet for many information producers, the awards are valued as the ultimate stamp of approval.This is a time to celebrate extraordinary talent, ambition and altruism in a well-established field with a high and ever-rising bar.
The judging process
Having experienced the judging process over the years as an entrant, reviewer, and judge, I have much respect for the framework that Richard and PIF members developed.
Each application goes through an initial review to assess its strength. Focussing on user and expert involvement, evaluation, and quality of the end product, this critique forms the basis of grading on which entries can be commended and highly commended.
This is an epic task: 41 information specialists participated in this year’s peer review.
The selection of winners from shortlists is, however, down to the judging panel.
As a new judge this year, I was astounded by the sight of over 100 of the best entries covering every table surface and laptop in the judging room. It brought home the scale of the great work that’s being done in our field. The task at hand was exciting, if somewhat daunting.
Yet when it came to the final selection, award winners had ascended to the top of multiple judges’ shortlists.
As Amanda Cool, fellow judge and BMA Patient Liaison Group Chair, shares “Without doubt, the quality of submissions is excellent. There is sometimes one piece that is truly exceptional, maybe in the way it’s written, or presented, or use of graphics to explain something technical, that makes it really stand out, and ultimately win an award”. In short, some winners just blow us away.
Any disagreements about final placings were resolved with friendly, passionate debate. The selection of runners up (although culprit of some numb bums come ceremony evening) allows us to acknowledge additional projects that stand above the crowd. These are entries championed by one or more of us during those final debates.
So, what makes an award-winning entry?
The reasons each of this year’s winners rose above the rest differ. To name a few:
- The overall winner – the It Starts with Me campaign by The Terrance Higgin’s Trust – impressed us with the diversity of its insightful and engaging tactics, which not only support decision making, but empower people to take positive action.
- The myTube web resource by the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust won based on the multiple layers of user involvement and its inviting, easy to navigate, bite-size content.
- The Lymphoma Association’s Young Person’s Guide to Lymphoma won on the strength of its excellent, varied design, which is sure to engage young people.
The list goes on…
Is this winning power achievable only for the charity sector’s big players? Absolutely not. Smaller charities and NHS trusts feature heavily in this year’s winning and commended lists. And as runner up Breast Cancer Care demonstrate with their engaging BECCA app – which combines new ideas with existing content – you don’t always need to start from scratch.
While there’s no magic bullet, there are commonalities between winning entries:
- All demonstrate a true understanding of the problem/need they’re addressing.
- All display deep insight into their audience.
- All give the judges confidence that the chosen approach is highly effective.
Shortlisted entries can also have an uncanny ability to bring a lump to the panel’s throats. As Amanda puts it “It’s truly humbling to know that at the very heart of every submission there is someone trying to help a patient, carer, partner or family member”.
Not only is the care and understanding shown by some information teams outstanding, it reminds us of the purpose and power of patient information.
Tips for aspiring information producers
For red-carpet aspirers and teams wanting to raise the bar of their projects, here are some tips:
- Look at winning entries from the last few years – what are they doing differently?
- Better still, talk to the award winners about their approach to information development. What’s fuelling their creativity and insight?
- If you’re a seasoned information producer, volunteer to be a Patient Information Award reviewer. You’ll learn, and you’ll be humbled.
- Familiarise yourself with the judging criteria. They closely echo PIF’s good practice tips, so check out their toolkit
- Don’t be tick box! Keep your mind open about how you’ll approach each project. Treating good practice criteria as a ‘to do’ list will narrow your inventiveness and make you stale.
- Have well-defined project goals from the outset. A common Achilles’ heel of entries is a weak evaluation plan. Often you can trace that back to poorly defined or unrealistic goals.
- Max out your entry form. Winning entries have good descriptions that allow the judges to have confidence that the end product meets patients’ needs. Keep it punchy. Give us insight.
- Pull in a favour. Compiling entries can sometimes be bestowed to newer team members – believe me, I’ve been there and feel your pain! Ask an appraisal process pro in your organisation or network to give you some pointers to strengthen your draft.
Lastly, if you’re guided by the values of the BMA itself – be expert, committed, reliable, challenging, and leading – you’ll not go far wrong.
See you in 2018!
Hannah Bridges, PhD, is a freelance patient information writer at HB Health Comms Limited
Posted on Wednesday, 20th September 2017