The participation of adult service users, including older people, in developing social care

Practice example 16: Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB)

Characteristics of service users involved

The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) is a membership voluntary organisation for people with sight problems operating across the United Kingdom.

How service user participation within the organisation is ensured

Membership currently stands at about 1,000, and these members are actively involved in both campaigning and service provision. RNIB sends out a regional newsletter, which acts as an information exchange and where recipients can ask about particular issues.

Approximately 75 per cent of RNIB’s executive board are themselves either blind or partially sighted people (BPSP). The charity seeks to recruit as many service users as volunteers as possible. It has a workforce of about 3,000 and about seven per cent are blind or partially sighted.

What policies on service user participation has the organisation formulated?

There is a business plan target called Putting BPSP at the heart of our work but there is no standardised way that this is being implemented at present.

How are service users supported?

The Royal National Institute of the Blind has offered assertiveness training to support people. Expenses are paid where necessary. Service user focus groups are paid to come in and are provided with lunch.

Taking on volunteers does not attract statutory funding for equipment or personal aid in the way that paid employment does. Therefore, RNIB has to limit the number of volunteers it takes on to avoid the costs of making such provision itself.

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

Particular projects are evaluated, but otherwise it is down to the individual services to monitor and report back since there is an expectation that service users will be involved as far as possible.

What makes organisations succeed in participation?

First, participants need to be assured they are going to be listened to - effective feedback would have to be a part of this. Second, there should be effective support enabling people to overcome difficulties. The Royal National Institute of the Blind’s teleconsultation service using teleconferencing to enable people who are isolated at home to participate would be an example of this.

Contact details

Fran McSweeney Royal National Institute of the Blind, 105 Judd Street, London, WC1H 9NE 020 7388 1266