Talking Mats as an Interview Tool
In this latest blog, our Director, Lois Cameron describes the initial stage of a Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory project aimed at enabling involvement and engagement of people with learning disabilities in supporting people with learning disabilities to have a voice. A great example of co-production in action:
The Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory aims to generate evidence, build understanding and provide information on the causes of poor health and health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities in Scotland. However, they recognised that there was a need to develop their approach to involving people with learning disabilities. They considered whether a citizens’ jury for people with learning disabilities on health and health research would be a constructive way of engaging people with learning disabilities in supporting people with learning disabilities to have a voice. From the outset, they acknowledged that communication would be a key challenge and approached Talking Mats to work with them to put forward a bid to the Welcome Trust Public engagement fund. This bid was written, submitted and was successful.
To establish the project, our first task was to recruit a Public Engagement Lead to take the lead on project delivery. This raised the first hurdle, as since the Engagement Lead was not in post there was no citizen’s jury and therefore no pool of people with learning disabilities to approach to be involved in the interview panel. From the outset, involvement of people with learning disability was seen as central to the project. Talking Mats had recently completed a course working with people with learning disabilities from the National Involvement Network to become Talking Mats interviewers, so we approached one of the participants who had completed the course and asked if he would be willing to be on the interview panel. He was very happy to take part and contribute his skills and experience to the interview panel.
Planning the interview Talking Mat
We examined the job description and divided it into questions that were more factual and knowledge-based and those that we might describe as ‘softer’. However, calling them soft might be misleading as they were actually value based and we felt that the successful candidate’s proficiency and self-awareness in responding to these options would be central to the success of the project. After going through this sifting process we came up with 8 possible options for the interview talking mat. We met with our interviewer from the National Involvement Network and with him honed it down to six and choose the top scale: extremely confident, confident, not that confident. He also choose the symbols he wanted to use. Candidates would be asked to justify where they placed their options. A script was developed to support the interviewer e.g. ‘It would be good if when you placed the card down you gave us a reason why you placed it there. Examples from other work you have done would be helpful’ . The full script can be found here – Interview Script
The six options were:
- Making information accessible
- Making sure everyone has a chance to speak
- Helping the group understand research
- Helping the group set its goals
- Involving people with severe learning disabilities in the research agenda
- Not taking power away from the group
In the interview, candidates were asked to give a short presentation, and then the member of the National Involvement Network carried out the Talking Mat. After this, there were some further panel questions and a chance for the candidate to ask questions.
The experience and outcomes
“I really liked being involved in making the mat. At the interview I knew what I had to do and I felt the other interviewers listened to me and my opinion.”
Other panel member’s perspective
“Having never used a Talking Mat in a recruitment interview before I was not sure how effective it would be as a recruitment tool. We wanted the process to be as inclusive as possible, where all interviewers had a clear and purposeful role. The Talking Mat worked really well, both as a way of gathering knowledge and information from the candidates, but also by providing an opportunity to observe the interactions between the candidate and the interviewer. I also think that the structured framework of the Talking Mat put the interviewer at ease and it was nice to observe that his confidence in using it in this context and, where necessary, in prompting and supporting the interviewee. All in all this was an effective way of conducting an inclusive interview process that signalled to our candidates that people with learning disabilities should be involved meaningfully in all stages of the process. It also meant that when we came to reviewing the candidates against the role criteria all members of the panel were able to contribute. I can’t wait to do more interviews like this!”
“For me, an interview process is really about making sure that you and your potential new employer have compatible values. Therefore, it was a relief to have someone with learning disabilities on the interview panel who could help direct the questions. It was also clear that the interviewer knew how he fit into the interview process and was taking the lead on his section of the interview.
The Talking Mat itself was an interesting tool for the interview discussion because the top scale allowed me to look at where my skills and confidence were but also identify some potential challenges within the project. The interviewer also really kept me on my toes with some good follow up questions. In one in particular, he asked me what I would do if he was talking too much and dominating the conversation in the group. It was a challenging question and quite uncomfortable on the spot, but it forced me to be honest about my own values and say that actually, the right thing to do is to politely confront someone who is not letting others speak.
The benefit of a Talking Mat is that it has to be really clear and concrete to work, so I actually felt that I understood the demands of the role better than reading the much longer job description.”
The involvement of people with learning disabilities was possible from the start of the project because we were able to harness the skills and experience of a person from the National Involvement Network who was trained in Talking Mats. He had a clear independent role which was central to the interview process and improved the quality of the information gained by panel members . The Talking Mats design gave all panel members particular insight into those ‘soft skills’ that were felt to be crucial to the project and that might not have come through so clearly if just the traditional presentation and questions were used.
If you are thinking about a Talking Mats project for your own organisation/service you can find more information here: https://www.talkingmats.com/projects/