How to run a virtual collaborative

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 30 September 2020 at 22:12

by Suzie Creighton

Running Virtual Collaboratives

Quality Improvement (QI) Collaboratives provide a really effective means of putting your patient safety and transformation ideas into action. Now more than ever – writing in the current COVID-19 pandemic – agile patient safety transformation and collaboratives are vital. Happily, by their very nature of spanning geographical locations, QI collaboratives can be run in a virtual way and are in fact well suited to working virtually.


QI projects are centred on collaborative learning and sharing best practice and QI teams are well used to accelerating change by engaging in rapid-cycle testing, and spreading and scaling successes and lessons learned across the community. Talking with the improvement community recently, it is evident that coronavirus is changing the way that improvement is carried out in a number of ways.


A lot of what is done in a QI collaborative is based on effective communications – be this getting your vision ‘out there’ or sharing training and feedback with team members. Equally, a lot of what you do in a collaborative can be done online. Although you may be missing the face to face contact and the ‘water cooler’ or networking moments, there are now new ways of working that have become ubiquitous – such as Teams and Zoom – that you can take advantage of.


What you can be sure of, is that in the current climate, your collaborative will require far more remote team working than ever before. In this article we will explore ways that you can tweak your established collaborative or set up a new QI collaborative which you can run virtually.


Here are a few ideas to help set you up for running a virtual QI collaborative or adjusting your current collaborative:


Be prepared for challenges – and prepare others to adapt

For all that it has in its favour, virtual collaboration can present some challenges. There are certain nuances that can be lost when communicating online – whether it be on Teams or Zoom or email. However, digital platforms can help by enabling further reach geographically. This is where you can use platforms like Life QI, who have been supporting QI collaboratives before the pandemic and during these challenging times. While some QI projects have been temporarily put on hold, others have been thriving in this new world, meaning collaborative teams can continue to make quality and transformational changes.


Some collaboratives have adapted quickly to the new way of working. East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) have already run one of their Pocket QI sessions remotely and shared their learning. They made their predictions, tested, reflected on the results and identified recommendations for the next session.


Using a solution such as Life QI means that you can continue to engage with your quality improvement peers, while ‘removing’ geographical barriers. It also means your teams can connect directly with improvement advisors with whom they can share and provide feedback and guidance. You can also access all your PDSAs in one place and access online training.


Test your technology in advance of virtual QI meetings

It is acknowledged that technology can really help your improvement journey, particularly now teams are more open to – and even expect to be - working remotely or online. In the Harvard Business Review’s article ‘What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting’ the author notes: ‘Nothing kills momentum at the start of a meeting like a 15-minute delay because people need to download software, can’t get the video to work, etc. Prior to a virtual meeting, all participants should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the major features.’ Make sure that you are ready to go before starting your virtual meetings and encourage your team members to do so as well.


Assign a facilitator for your virtual meetings

The Harvard Business Review article2 advises that you assign a facilitator in order to manage virtual discussions, as sometimes managing these discussions can be more difficult virtually. If one person is tasked with guiding the conversation, this can really help. A polling system can also be used to check that the group are on board and that all voices are being held. The facilitator can also help with the technology if this presents an issue.


Prepare for delivering training virtually

In the past, QI training has mostly taken place in person. You will now need to work out whether you can deliver your training virtually and whether your current material works in this context or if you have to tweak what you have. There are more hints and tips in our article: ‘How to run your virtual QI training’, where we focus on how training sessions are not just about tools and methods and how sharing effectively curated examples of best practice can be really powerful. A solution such as Life QI enables you to add in your best practice content and share your latest learning materials with all your QI collaborative participants.


Keep up regular communications and engagement

This article we’ve written gives more detail on remote working and how to do it successfully. This is something which you can also apply to your virtual QI collaborative experience. You will want to be engaging more frequently with your remote colleagues via the many communications channels that exist, i.e. email, telephone and video consultations.


Keep learning from others, adopting new technology and learning

Learning from others’ QI experiences is a great way to keep up to speed in these rapidly changing times. In these articles: 'How QI teams are responding to Covid-19' and 'How Coronavirus will change the way we do QI' we have spoken to QI teams about the challenges they face in the current conditions and look at their reaction and proactive responses. We think you will be heartened by the positive feedback on QI transformation during the pandemic and how running a virtual QI collaborative really is a viable option.


With ideas on project sharing, file sharing and discussions that can be open to national improvement communities, Life QI continues to support teams working on their QI projects and provides improvement tools for communities.


If you would like guidance on this or wish to help us in encouraging the community to come together on this – please do get in touch at



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