Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Big question 6: How do we find out?

What methods might be used to find out whether participating has really made a difference?


There are many different ways of finding out what the results of taking part have been. The choice should be based on why the evaluation is taking place (see Big question 1), who will be involved in the evaluation, what skills and resources are available and the nature of the activity.

If several methods are used you can be more confident that the evaluation will be accurate. Researchers put their findings to more than one test to try to make sure that they are reliable. Using different methods might help different people to take part; some people are more confident writing, others better at speaking. Children might prefer drawing, for example, as a way of expressing themselves.

Findings box 6

  • There is currently no best method of evaluating participation (T01).
  • There is limited guidance, tools and knowledge about how services and organisations can review the outcomes of participation (R06, p50).
  • Where a toolkit is used it is important to know how it has been tried and tested (Telford et al, 2004).
  • The way the evaluation is done should reflect the values of participation (R06).
  • Using a range of methods helps make sure that the evaluation paints a faithful (valid) picture (R18). See Ideas box 6 below.
  • Partnership approaches in which service users and carers join in the evaluation (co-evaluators) (R10) or when they are the evaluators, can lead to more honest feedback (R09).
  • The way in which the evaluation is conducted, and how the information is collected, should be relevant to all the people who have an interest in the evaluation (Site 5).
  • The creative arts can be used to involve people who are not very verbal or whose English is limited (Toolkit 5). These methods can be helpful where an evaluation involves expression of feelings.

The costs of evaluation might mean that a sample is needed (that is, a smaller number of people who are likely to represent the larger number). It may be necessary to seek expert assistance to know how best to use sampling techniques. Try the local university or research and development section of the statutory services for assistance.

Ideas box 6

Different ways to find out whether participation makes a difference

  • Group interviews and discussions
  • Individual interviews and telephone conversations
  • Story telling
  • Committees and forums
  • Observation (of participation)
  • Questionnaires
  • Drawings/cartoons
  • Computer packages
  • Photos
  • The creative arts
  • Complaints
  • Suggestions box

The methods used to find out what difference joining in is has made should encourage people to join in even more.