2021 for the CAMHS.Digital Advisory Group: A Year In Review

Jessica talks about her experiences running an advisory group for young people

Now that we have wrapped up our last advisory group session of 2021, I thought it would be a great time to review the past year and all that we have achieved in the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group.

I started working with the GM.Digital team at the start of July 2021, and one of the joys of my role with the team has been picking up the responsibilities for the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group. Over the last six months I have worked with a group of incredibly dedicated and passionate young people in the pursuit of improving research and the development of digital tools for young people.

“Public contribution and collaboration is at the heart of what we do

Within the GM.Digital Research Unit, public contribution and collaboration is at the heart of what we do. It is very important to us to ensure that the research is guided by and approved by the target audience. The CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group allows us to do just that. We have cultivated a space where young people, aged 16-24, are invited to meet with researchers, academics, and digital technology developers. Within groups young people consult with and advise on research which is targeted towards people their own age. Once group members have joined us as Citizen Researchers they are empowered to have their voices and opinions heard on matters which are important to, and which affect, them.

Over the course of this year we have seen our Citizen Researchers continue to dedicate themselves to the group despite on-going challenges in the Covid-19 pandemic. We have moved from face-to-face sessions to virtual meetings via MS Teams, and thought creatively about how we maintain the feelings of connectedness and interaction amongst the team. One bonus of changing our way of working is that we’ve been able to increase our reach for young people. Previously we have only been able to welcome Citizen Researchers who could attend our meetings in Manchester. Now we are able to welcome anybody that is interested in joining us – regardless of where they are in the world!

So what have we achieved this year?

Our advisory group sessions run on a weekly basis, on Wednesday afternoons. We have had research teams come to the group to share their ideas, proposals and prototypes – some of whom have returned again and again to update us on how their projects are developing and to discuss next steps! We have heard some amazing podcasts developed with collaborators, charities and experts by experience; and likewise read some great blog posts – all produced by our amazing Citizen Researchers! We have been looking at expanding the roles and responsibilities that our CRs hold, so that they can take full ownership of their domains – keep your eyes peeled for a new web management team coming soon!

We have also attended and presented at a number of conferences and events this year. It’s been a fantastic way to connect with professionals and tell them about our advisory group, who have then gone on to join our sessions and discuss their research or interests and explore ways to make that the best it could be! It’s also been a great opportunity to continue raising awareness about why young people should get involved with research, and what they can gain from doing so. Lastly, and by no means least, it has been an opportunity for our Citizen Researchers to present with us at these conferences – because as we know, collaboration is one of the most important things to us! By presenting at events with our young people, we feel the experience has been richer and more true to what we do; we also love that our team members can then use these experiences to help them with their journeys into work, education or otherwise! Let’s take a brief look at some of the events we have attended this year:

  • Leeds Digital Festival 2021: The tech event for everyone.

This is an open, collaborative festival which runs over a two week period annually. start-ups to tech giants, anyone with a passion for tech and digital is encouraged to get involved and present to six different continents and over 60 countries across the globe. This year there were over 300 events during the festival and we were so glad to be a part of it! It was amazing to see so many passionate people coming together to celebrate tech and what it can do! Our GM.Digital team and CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group held an interactive workshop on digital tech for mental health and wellbeing. We presented alongside two of our Citizen Researchers who shared their experiences of being members of the group, and how they think young people benefit from being a part of research! The response was overwhelming and it was amazing to see new members join our group following the event!

  • Ypii DMH Networking Event with Ideathon

This was YPii DMH’s first networking event and we were so pleased to be a part of it! They created an innovative and fun space for professionals, young people and youth co-ordinators to come together and share ideas with the aim of shaping research. The GM.Digital and CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group team presented on “What it means to involve young people in research”, and discussed best practice in the meaningful involvement of young people in digital mental health research. It was amazing to collaborate with other professionals and again have the opportunity to spread awareness of what we do, further growing our network and our advisory group! As always, we presented alongside our Citizen Researchers who did an amazing job talking about their roles in the advisory group.

  • ARC GM Connecting Communities: Public involvement and engagement event

This event was part of a week long series of activities and presentations to showcase and celebrate the way in which the communities of Greater Manchester have come together in an inclusive way during the pandemic. One of the main aims was to learn more about how different communities have been working together and the impact this had on maximising diversity and inclusion in public involvement and engagement activities. It was a brilliant opportunity to discuss how the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group engages with young people and how we constantly put them at the forefront of what we do. At GM.Digital there are always lots of research projects being developed and run, and it is so important to get feedback and direction from a diverse group of public contributors – essentially, ensuring that the research we do will be appropriate and effective for the people we are doing the research for. It was another opportunity to share learning with professionals and explore new ways to engage with and encourage diversity.

  • Calm Connections: RESET 2021

RESET 21 was set up with the aim of uniting young people, families, professionals and service providers to raise awareness of local help and support for young people and their mental health challenges. It was amazing to be there to talk to young people and other organisations about the innovative practice and projects running at GM.Digital and the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group. We spent the day meeting (in person!) lots and lots of young people and talking to them about their interests, their ideas and their thoughts about the services we offer. We also got to connect with charities, services for mental health and like-minded organisations. It was a fantastic learning opportunity for all of us, and one that would be great to be invited to join again.

What’s coming next?

Working with the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group this year has been extremely rewarding for me. I have met so many amazing young people that are passionate about contributing to, and improving, research so that their peers will have the right support for their mental health. As a research unit, we have benefitted so much from the insightful input that our volunteers have given to our projects, and it’s been wonderful to invite external collaborators to talk to our volunteers so that more research projects will be of a higher standard!

So now that we’re wrapping up 2021, it’s time to look ahead to what 2022 will bring! We have been working hard behind the scenes to further the development of the CAMHS.Digital Young People’s Advisory Group and we are really excited to have lots of exciting and engaging events coming up! We will be joined by a range of teams and professionals who want to use our ideas to make their research the best it can be, as well as further developing the roles of our young people so that they can continue to grow and develop their skills (and their CV’s!). Below is the timetable for the next five weeks’ sessions, following the Christmas break. We will be kicking off on the 12th January and we look forward to seeing what comes next!

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