Service User Involvement seminars and projects
Two project seminars (one of which started in March 2014, the other in March 2015) had been conducted. Both of these project seminars organized SUI seminars.
The first group of eight students decided to start working on the SUI idea (project seminar I) in March 2014. As is typical for this module, the lecturers (the authors) provided a framework while the specific modalities of the SUI seminar were developed collaboratively. During the first sessions of the seminar, students read widely on SUI projects across Europe (e.g. Askheim 2011; Kjellberg 2011; Stevens/Tanner 2006) and discussed their applicability within the current setting. Several areas central to the concept of SUI were identified and discussed in great detail (e.g. “empowerment” and “participation”). One central topic that emerged from these discussions was the question “What is good social work?” or more precisely: which aspects of users’ experiences with social work and social workers are/were helpful and which were not. These questions and the idea to produce a DVD were inspired by the work of Helen Casey and her Durham team as a member of the PowerUs Network; they interviewed children and adolescents who were currently involved with social workers. In a process detailed by Laging & Heidenreich (submitted for publication) the specific format of the SUI seminar (SUI seminar I) was influenced by discussions with both professionals and self-help groups. Our experiences in approaching potential participants for our SUI seminars will be detailed below.
Project seminar II was comprised of 18 students started in March 2015 and followed the same course as project seminar I: again, students familiarized themselves with different SUI concepts across Europe. Additionally, they watched the DVD produced during the course of project seminar I and had the opportunity to discuss experiences with students who had participated in the earlier seminar. As project seminar I had gathered some evidence on topics that might be interesting for both students and service users, it was decided to focus on the dialectic of “help vs. control” which is central to conducting social work, especially in highly regulated settings such as help for probationers or people with mental health problems involving suicidal tendencies. To select participants, it was decided to continue working with the groups that had already successfully participated in SUI seminar I while at the same time aiming to involve more groups. As a next step, students checked where service user involvement would be most appropriate in the social work bachelor’s curriculum. After identifying relevant modules, the student group approached professors who teach in these modules and personally discussed possibilities for incorporating SUI in these modules. Most professors were open with regard to including service users in teaching social work. Finally, near the end of project seminar II, the students organized a meeting where service users and professors met to discuss possible ways of collaboration.