All the activities reported so far were carefully evaluated using different methodological approaches.
After two one-year user involvement seminars with a total of 26 students and more than 30 service users in the course of the Esslingen BA Social Work curriculum, our evaluation is very positive: students, teachers and recipients of social work experienced large benefits from the SUI seminars. Starting from international contacts and the impressive projects in other European countries, we wanted to test the SUI approach in the German system.
We found out that the basic idea received very good feedback, first from students and later from colleagues. This might also be due to the fact that participation plays a major role in the theory and practice of social work in Germany (e.g. Oelerich & Schaarschuch, 2005). Esslingen University also has a record of participatory collaboration with students – thus, including service users into social work education appeared to be a logical consequence of known theories and well-tried practical approaches.
Having said that, it also became clear that specific adaptations to the requirements and conditions of each country and university are necessary:
the projects in Lund (Sweden) and Lillehammer (Norway) involve service users mainly as “external students”, thereby giving them a role that emphasizes
meetings between internal students and service users as equals.
During the developmental process at Esslingen, a slightly different structure emerged: the students became – at least in part – organizers and designers of Service User Involvement seminars and the participants who had graduated from EX-IN seminars aimed at a role as lecturer, a position within the academic system that is on an equal level with academic teachers. In this way, in Esslingen – as in other projects in Europe – new role patterns and levels of encounter emerged, although in a slightly different way.