A primary principle of the Better by Design programme is that people are the driving force for the development and delivery of services that they want and need. We are used to hearing and using the general term ‘service-users’ when referring to those who access an organisation’s support, but this reveals little about who these individuals really are or what they might be contributing. Might someone who uses a service also be a volunteer, a campaigner, an advocate, or a mentor to others in the organisation? As part of the Better by Design process, we worked with many of the organisations to think beyond ‘service-users’ and to explore the following questions:
- Who really benefits from the work we do, both directly and indirectly?
- In which ways do these groups of people currently get involved?
- Where might there be opportunities for increasing participation and involvement?
The work that organisations undertook on ‘engagement and participation’ was an opportunity to temporarily step back from the day-to-day demands of service delivery, and to think strategically about how both the needs and capabilities of their beneficiaries could most effectively shape the organisation’s future activity. What did we do? The process began with an online survey of staff, which gathered feedback about the different ways that those who benefit from the organisation are currently involved. We invited a mixture of people who held different roles throughout the organisation to take part in the survey, and the responses described a wide range of current opportunities for participation; from informal feedback and interaction on social media to peer support, mentoring and steering groups. Based on this feedback, we ran workshops for members of staff to come together and reflect on what was already working well, and where there were opportunities for further involvement. The workshop was structured around a simple framework for thinking about the different ways that people might get involved with something. It includes four categories, which range from low-level engagement to higher levels of active participation (Observing, Contributing, Collaborating and Leading – see image below for descriptions of each level) The purpose of the conversation is not to suggest that the highest levels of participation are necessarily the most superior types of involvement, or indeed that it would be appropriate to encourage all groups of people to get involved in those ways. Instead, it is important to acknowledge that it’s natural for any organisation or group to have a larger number of people who are loosely involved, and a smaller number who are very active and feel personally invested. What’s most significant is that the organisation has considered the whole spectrum of opportunities for people to get involved, and also taken time to think about which groups of people these opportunities might be most appropriate for. When these opportunities are well suited, both the individual and the organisation will have a huge amount to gain. What next? This conversation became a starting point for a range of different actions by those who were involved:
- Becoming inspired by ideas for creative approaches towards engagement, based on case studies that were shared and discussion with others
- Identifying a specific opportunity (related to their existing services) that staff would like to work on to encourage greater involvement (i.e. developing a peer support and mentoring system)
- Developing a more consistent whole-organisation strategy towards engagement and participation (creating a framework that provides staff with guidance about the range of approaches available and when to use them)