The participation of adult service users, including older people, in developing social care
Meaning and importance of participation - Successful participation
Despite the benefits listed above, it is important to recognise that when participation is handled poorly, the chances of achieving positive changes will be reduced.
I hate being the only service user present. It is horrendous. [Tokenism makes me] feel I’m being used. (Service user)
Although originally written in the context of work with people from Black and minority ethnic groups on the need to move beyond traditional forms of research, and make progress in bringing about change in practice, these messages could equally be written about trying to achieve successful service user participation.
Success means ensuring that people:
- are involved right from the start in initiatives;
- have than just one or two token members on a group;
- have a real say in decisions;
- meet regularly and receive regular updates on progress;
- are supported in the process and not simply left with a series of inaccessible papers to read;
- are given the results [of the participation] - not simply being the subjects whose knowledge is taken;
- have a say in the meaning of the results and how these will be used.(Butt & O'Neil, 2004, p18)
There is still a shortage of published materials recording the outcomes of service user participation (Carr, 2004).Reasons why this has not happened include:
- Developments have been written up in a descriptive way, focussing on the process, rather than its effects (Bickerstaff & Walker, 2005), or they have not been written up formally in books, journals or reports.
- Evaluations often remain confidential to the organisations concerned and are not shared with others.
- The mechanisms for participation have rarely been linked to the mechanisms for improving services (Baggott, 2005; Beresford & Branfield, 2006).
However, there are now signs that this is beginning to change:
- Electronic publications increase the availability of materials to a wider audience.
- Evaluations including service users tend to focus very directly upon the quality of services (Banongo et al., 2007; Kotecha et al., 2007).
Funding may be linked to a requirement for participation, or specific funding is allocated for service user participation through contractual arrangements with service user organisations.