Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Big question 3: What do we mean by making a difference?

Can all improvements be easily measured? If we just feel better or understand more – is that a result in itself?

Summary

Evaluation is like opening up the ‘black box’ that aeroplanes use to track what happens, though in social care the story of how the project or agency has been working is more complex (Toolkit 4; Baum et al, 1998) since finding out what differences have resulted from service user and carer participation is also about finding out how the participation has been making a difference. The participation might have been about service users having a voice (being listened to), about having a choice (more control over what the services they receive) or about making changes to the services as a whole. How people feel about the way they participated can be as important as the results of their participation.

Findings box 3

  • There is a difference between finding evidence about the process of participation and reviewing the outcomes of participation (R06).
  • Taking part can have its own benefits apart from any specific changes that come about as a result of participation. More studies focus on process rather than outcome (R02).
  • There can be confusion over what is being evaluated (R05). It works better for outcomes to be realistic, measurable and specific (R06, p44).
  • What is measured must be meaningful. Number crunching approaches such as admission and discharge rates or financial activity were not favoured (R05, p22).
  • There is a close relationship between the method of participation, the degree of satisfaction and the extent of change. Processes and outcomes are not divorced from one another (R07).

Ideas box 3

This Ideas box can be used by all the people involved in evaluating participation. It will help to show whether you are more likely to be interested in outcomes or processes, intrinsic or extrinsic benefits, or a combination. Giving specific examples of the kinds of changes that are wanted or expected is designed to develop self-awareness, which is important in sharing expectations and avoiding disappointment.

Complete these sentences as a way of starting a dialogue about how you and others can begin to know whether participation is making a difference.

  • I want to be listened to
  • I want to see changes
  • I want to have choice
  • I want to feel involved
  • I want to see results soon
  • I want to see lasting changes
  • I want practices to change
  • I want policies to change

Complete these sentences as a way of starting a dialogue about how you and others can begin to know whether participation is making a difference.

  • An example of a change that is important to me would be...
  • I would know things were changing when I noticed that...
  • An example of me being listened to would be...
  • What I get most out of taking part is...