Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Big question 4: When do we decide to find out whether a difference is being made?

Is the timing right? Have things had time to develop?


If you do not know where you have started from you cannot know how far you have travelled. Finding out where you are at the beginning of the process is called a benchmark. A plan with time limits and deadlines also reminds you when to take measurements. This will indicate how far you have travelled. In the house extension example in What is evidence of success?, we imagined that people might measure progress in their own different ways and at different times. Some of these indicators can be used quite soon, whilst others might have to wait a long time before we could use them to measure success.

Findings box 4

  • Many of the changes that we might expect to see as a result of service user and carer participation take a long time (sometimes called ‘a long horizon’). This can lead people to focus on the short term before the changes have accumulated (R06).
  • Although a long term view is sometimes needed, it may be difficult to keep evaluation going over a long period (R06).
  • Evaluation, like participation, can be occasional rather than continuous.
  • A successful outcome might be less about change for the better and more about keeping things from getting worse (Site 7).
  • We need to find out more about how the methods used to evaluate participation might need to be different depending how far advanced the participation is (R06).
  • The ‘when’ question helps to recognise progress because you have to develop indicators along the way (sometimes called ‘intermediate outcomes’) (R08).
  • The Rickter evaluation model focuses on distance travelled rather than outcomes (Site 1) (Toolkit 8).

Ideas box 4

You have choices about when to evaluate. You can use the user-centred model of participation below to consider at which stage it would it be best to find out whether participation is making a difference. Given resources are limited what would your priorities be? (Adapted from Toolkit 7, p51)

User-centred model

Although this is a user-centred model, it can of course be used by all those involved in evaluating service user and carer participation – workers, managers, and policy makers as well as service users and carers