Participation - finding out what difference it makes

Big question 7: What tools and resources do we need?

What is going to help us to find out whether participation has made a difference? How do we make sure it is meaningful?


Think about the resources that will be needed to make a successful evaluation of service user and carer participation. For example, what kind of support and training might people need to take part in the evaluation or to conduct it themselves? Support might come best from joining together in groups or networks to ‘flex your collective muscle’ (Branfield et al, 2006) whether this is networks of service users, carers, workers, managers or policy makers, or perhaps networks between all of these groups.

The evaluation might take place at different levels. What is needed for a one-off event will differ from on-going evaluation. Finding out about how service users participate in their own care plans will need different resources to finding out about their participation in strategic planning.

Findings box 7

  • There is no evidence in the available literature of any systematic attempt to make the link between methods of evaluation and models of participation, such as Arnstein’s ladder (R16) and Tresedar’s circular model (R06).
  • Different stages of participation might lend themselves to different evaluative approaches (Toolkit 7).
  • Differences in the size of the changes might suggest different kinds of evaluation. Policy makers may be looking for the impact of participation at a strategic level whilst service users may be more likely to focus on developing measures to evaluate the impact on their day-to-day experience of services.
  • Involvement at a higher strategic level is rare and so, presumably, is evaluation of this level of participation (R04) (Site 1) (Site 4).
  • How might people join in by joining together? Research suggests that service user organisations and individual service users are often isolated and that the development of service user networking is critical to making user involvement work (Branfield et al, 2006).
  • Some practice methods and planning approaches have evaluation built in to their methodology, both short term results and longer term outcomes, though it is rare to have a systematic analysis of the findings from these experiences (Marsh and Doel, 2005; McLaughlin and Jordan, 1999).

Ideas box 7

What might be needed for a successful evaluation?

Skills Physical Personal





questionnaire design






training in above skills