Participation - finding out what difference it makes
What is evidence of success?
Different views of success
We are expected to look for evidence of what works well and to use this. This is called evidence-based practice. ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ is not good enough; we should know what evidence there is to support what we are doing. However, there are a lot of things we do not have much evidence of, and most situations are very complicated, so the evidence is not simple. Taking the following everyday example of a house extension, what might be the evidence that it was successful?
- The people living in the house might say it is a success if it gave them the extra space they had hoped for.
- The person owning the house might think it is a success if it was built on time and within the agreed price and it increased the house's value.
- The builder might judge it a success if it has made a profit.
- The architects might see success if their plans have been followed exactly.
- The local planning office might judge success if the extension meets all the regulations and planning laws.
- Neighbours might sense success in an extension that doesn't shade their garden.
- People across the street might see success in an extension that is in keeping with the neighbourhood.
- Family and friends of the people living in the house might feel success if it gives them a comfortable spare room to stay in when they come to visit.
From this example we can see that evidence of success needs to take account of many different views. Also, an opinion might change depending on when it is asked for. During the building of the house extension you might feel positive because the builders are involving you in making decisions. Or you may feel unhappy because the builders’ work is very messy. Evidence of success is not just about what happens in the end (outcome) but it is also about how we all got there (process).
The meaning of successful participation
The answer to the question ‘how do we know whether being involved has made a difference?’ is not easy. It depends on:
- who we ask ... and who does the asking
- when we ask the question
- how we ask it
- what we ask about
- how we feel about being asked (what has our past experience been?)
- whether we think it will make a difference if we bother to answer
- whether we feel we can be honest
- the different power of the people involved
- what 'being involved' has been like in the past.