This is a list of potential benefits and limitations: it was collected during workshops with service users (SU), professionals, and social work teachers in the autumn of 2022 .
At the start : 4 key questions to develop educational activities involving service users
To improve the training of students
To promote the co-production of knowledge
To increase the quality of the social work education
To strengthen – empower the lecturers: skills, knowledge.
To become a better social worker
To better prepare future social workers for more effective and anti-oppressive practice
To increase the reputation of the institution
Service users and carers
Managers and Policy makers
Course development en curriculum design
Contribution as testimonies
Co-teaching in lessons, workshops, seminars
Assessing and providing feedback on papers and projects
Involvement in supervision of internship
Developing in projects and community interventions
In the classroom
In the community
In the social work institution
In public and private spaces
Literature shows that there are different kinds of participation. Participation ladders were developed to facilitate the identification of different levels of participation.
The ladders introduced by Shier, Hart, Arnstein were developed within healthcare and social welfare practice. They are hierarchically constructed. Each ascending rung represents an increasing level of participation. The ladder by Towle describes a range of roles that service users can play in education. This ladder is explicated as unhierarchical and should be understood as that each level of participation serves a different purpose. Towles ladders include a range of participation types.
In recent decades, increased attention and interest was given to service user participation in both social work practice and education. As Towel clarifies, service users’ participation can be acknowledged in many ways, depending on the educational purpose. When fostering service users’ participation in social work education, it might be unrealistic to think that all service user involvement can apply the highest level of participation. Therefore we suggest different types of service user participation to be used when involving service users in social work education.
Since we want to move away from the hierarchical view, we have visualised the different possibilities of participation in moving clouds.
All types of participation are valuable and all can be applied within the same social work programme, either all combined, or only one or a few of them.
When an educational institution decides to work with service users, financial matters cannot be ignored. This requires a formal and profound discussion. Depending on the institution’s policy, it is important to discuss the type of work required of service users, their status, and their roles in the programmes.
To involve service users, different aspects must be taken into account:
When considering financial matters, three parties are involved: the service user, the institution, and the lecturers. There is no ‘one size fits all’ but following issues and questions can be discussed.
There is a wide range of possible fees: from a free contribution to full employment as an equal employee in the organisation.
Usually, the first thing educational institutions should consider, is their position on reimbursement. What is the institution’s position on the role of service users in the educational programmes? Is the institution willing to invest time and money in involving service users in social work education? What about the fee/salary for the service user? What about the rewarding of the preparation time for both service user and lecturer? Are the service users valued and engaged as proper employees or as volunteers?
What about insurance? Who is responsible when something happens?
“Because it needs several people, this type of programme costs more, so it requires a real institutional will.” (participant training session, 2021)
Engaging service users has financial implications strongly linked to ethical issues. This needs to be considered before engaging service users in the social work educational programme. For instance, economic and pedagogical viability needs to be discussed.
The lecturer has a crucial role here and should interact both with the organisation and with the service users individually. The lecturer has a responsibility toward the service user regarding all necessary paperwork involved and the possible financial implications.
As a lecturer, it is important to talk about the additional costs that can go with the service user’s contribution: transport, childcare, food, and ways to deal with them.
“Transport can be an obstacle and these requests are hardly ever heard”(participant training session, 2021)
This letter is written by service users that were involved during the SWEET project. In this letter, they want to convince a fictive dean or head of the department of a social work education program to involve service users in social work education.
We are a group of social service users and we heard that you are planning a new educational programme for future social workers. We therefor would like to share with you what we think is important for a good professional social worker.
First of all, we believe that participation is a method for social inclusion. To us, participation means that a service user is included in the whole process, from planning to evaluation.
Secondly, by letting service users participate, you give them a voice and you let them participate in society, which increases social inclusion.
Due to participation, service users and students gain different perspectives on a variety of social problems.
Another important aspect is that you can create sustainable partnerships with service users throughout the programme. This means that the service users participate on a regular basis, not only with the students but also with the teachers, researchers, and other staff.
By doing this, equity is improved between people in society. For us, this means everybody is on the same level and treated as an equal partner.
By using this participative pedagogy, all partners will gain more self-awareness and will feel empowered. By coproduction and participation, we mean that you let service users really take part in the education instead of just asking for their point of view once or twice.
And finally, by developing social work education together with service users this becomes a cocreative process. This benefits the whole society because it is part of the process of inclusion.
We expect you to respond to this and explain to our organisation how you will take this into consideration.
Jacques, Eva-Lena, Steven, Dorothy, & Evelyn
This exercise can be used if a lecturer wants to involve SU in Social Work education. The aim of this exercise is to formulate the goal of the project including service users. It is important that you, as a lecturer, don’t work alone and that you can share your thoughts and confront your ideas. This exercise can be performed with colleagues, students, SU, and partners.
Sit in duo (two students, student and service user, teachers): find a discussion partner and tell them about your goal of involving service users in social work education. The discussing partner is instructed to be clearer on refining and concretizing your goal with the involvement of SU, to make the goal realistic and achievable.
Before you start, encourage your partner to be curious. They have the task to let you describe vividly (describe why you want to do it) and in detail what the new situation will look like. In this way, you will increase your own enthusiasm for the idea! This will work like a magnet : it will inject dynamism into the whole process! For this reason, it is important to devote sufficient time to the exploration of the idea and the motivation of the proposal. It can work as a powerful stimulating force.
If you ask someone what they really want, what are their objectives, there is often a risk that their initial answer will be vague and general. Try to answer in more concrete terms : what will your objectives look like in reality if you achieve what you want to achieve ? Some simple questions like: What do you really want? What would make you happy? What is behind the first answer ? Continue and your partner will have to show their interest and ask in-depth questions.
What are the goal and objectives?
What would you like to see happen?
What do you want to achieve?
In which areas would you like to see some change?
What issues do you wish to tackle?
What is your dream?
Where do you hope to end up?
What would you like to be different?
Can you describe your goal in concrete terms?
What do you imagine that things will be like when service users are involved ?
How will you know when you have achieved your goal? What will be changed?
Leaving aside what others think, what do you really want for yourself? And for the students? And for your colleagues? And for the social work education?
What are your targets in the short term? In the long term?
What is the first step?
When would you be satisfied with the result?
The involvement of service users/experts by experience in Social work education is not a technicality or a provision, it’s a human and relational process that must be managed with awareness and care.
Every relational process is not without challenges and requires an ethical perspective to avoid tokenistic, paternalistic or stigmatizing effects, as shown by previous studies (Duffy, 2006; Anghel and Ramon, 2009; Driessens et al. 20161). Service users’ participation in social work education can bring ethical problems to the surface touching the essence of the interactions and relationships among students, educators and people with lived experience.
By developing the participation of service users in the educational programs, educators can confront different questions, asking themselves, for example:
At the base of these questions there are ethical issues, sometimes mixed with resources and organizational aspects that go beyond the educators’ possibilities. These ethical issues can create conflicts of values and moral tensions reproducing undesirable effects threatening the activities’ meanings.
First of all, staff has to accomplish the ethics procedures requested by each institution.
Beyond the ethics procedures, educators must hold a critical consciousness lens to identify sensitive topics and sensible related issues and be active in managing potential conflicts. Considering ethical issues is crucial to limit mechanisms and dynamics to reproduce power discourses dominated by rhetoric and injustice roots.
The involvement of service users in social work education must be coherent with the Global social work statement of ethical principles that represents a European source for reflecting and managing