Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Practice site 4: Sandwell Visually Impaired Group (SVI)

1. Characteristics of service users involved

SVI serves adults with visual impairments in the Sandwell area of the West Midlands. It is a service user-led partnership with the local authority. Currently (March 2007) there are 200 members of SVI, which is 12% of all visually impaired people in the borough.

2. How service user participation within the organisation is ensured

The purpose of participation is enhancing the quality of lives of the visually impaired people living or working in Sandwell and to help members to become self-advocates. SVI’s mission is the full implementation of the RNIB 16 standards as laid out in ‘Progress In Sight’, which the council have also pledged themselves to implement. There is participation on council committees and service provider teams (Sensory Impairment) as well as job interviews for professionals.

3. What policies on service user participation has the organisation formulated?

Participation takes place at all levels except research. At the policy level, the council have undertaken to develop a Sensory Impairment Booklet and SVI are engaged in this process. SVI members have joined two council Scrutiny Panels (Equality and Diversity; and Culture and Community) and sit on the Disabled Equality Project Board.

4. How are service users supported?

Users of Sandwell’s Vision Services are supported by the endeavours of the SVI Management team to secure the delivery of an improved service. To this end SVI have established two strategic sub-groups. Both groups meet frequently and not less than monthly. As community peers, with expertise, SVI are advocates for the less confident.Social support is provided by SVI publishing a quarterly newsletter that is distributed to all 1,700 named on Sandwell’s register of visually impaired people; the launch of an interactive website; and the holding of quarterly entertaining ‘Open meetings’. The well-attended AGM (110 people in 2006), also provides another friendly forum for the community.

5. How are the effects of participation monitored, audited, and evaluated?

Internal evaluations are undertaken, but there is no independent evaluation. Evaluations are not specifically about the effects of participation, but focus on the RNIB’s ‘Progress In Sight’, which is regarded as the benchmark. Membership figures are seen as a good indication of the success of participation (and these are increasing dramatically). A regular newsletter and the SVI website and AGM are used to help monitor participation.

6. A particular example of participation making a difference

Four of SVI’s committee members now have input into job applications. Initially this was confined to posts within Vision Services this is now broadening to embrace the wider council service.

7. Contact details

Contact person: Graham Price (Chair)

Address: PO Box13235 West Bromwich, B70 1BE

Telephone: 0121 565 2875

Email: or

Web address: