Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Big question 1: Why bother to evaluate?

Are there good reasons for finding out whether and how participation is making a difference?


The reasons for evaluating participation are likely to influence the way in which it is conducted. Do you want to ‘prove’ that participation works or to describe what the process was like? What would be the result of not finding out whether participation has made a difference, and how will findings be used to make changes? What is the likely balance of costs and benefits from finding out whether participation has made a difference? It is important that services learn from the experiences of those who use them, so that they can become more responsive.

Findings box 1

  • Service user and carer participation might be an end in itself (R14) linked to broader issues of citizens’ rights and democracy (R15).
  • The question ‘why evaluate participation?’ is not the same as ‘why involve people in the first place?’ (R16). The two questions are linked, especially where the main aim has been service user involvement in research and evaluation (Site 9) (Site 10).
  • Taking time to evaluate indicates the value of a service by gathering reliable and valid information in a systematic way (R18).
  • As well as the value to service users and carers, it is worth considering the potential benefits to social care workers, such as feeling energised (Site 8).
  • Evaluation is about communication – a dialogue in which people come to the table to talk about ‘that which is of value, merit, worth or significance’ (Toolkit 4, p112).

Ideas box 1

How important might each of the following potential benefits be for your organisation – and therefore, how might they help make the case that evaluating service user and carer participation is worth the effort?

  • Improved access to services
  • Improvement in the quality and responsiveness of services
  • Better informed planning and development
  • Evidence of more accountability
  • Energised staff experiencing more job satisfaction
  • Increased opportunities for service users and carers to share both their frustrations and their appreciation
  • Service users and carers feeling more valued and more confident
  • Service users and carers feeling they can make a difference
  • Improvement in the relationship between service users, carers and the wider community
  • Funders have a better understanding of the service’s strengths and weaknesses and what to do about this

(Adapted from Toolkit 2, p7)