Service User organizations in Sweden

There are many examples of service user led organizations in Sweden. In the end of the 19th century people with different disabilities started to organize joint resistance against the discrimination that they were subjects to. An important issue at that time – and still today – is exclusion from the labor market. Some service user led organizations developed in the 60- and 70-ies in collaboration with professionals to effect policy and promotes human rights for their members.

Examples are KRUM (promoting rights for prisoners), RFHL (promoting rights for drug users); RSMH (promoting rights for people with mental problems); and PRO (promoting pensioners rights). In the nineties, a number of social enterprises developed – production units where former marginalized groups such as people with disabilities or persons with a background in drug use or criminality develop businesses together. Basta outside Nykvarn was one of the first social enterprises in Sweden. Another example is Vägen Ut, that developed in Gothenburg. Some service user led organizations are self-help groups and the one most known is probably Alcoholic Anonymous.

An important part of the Swedish history is the tradition of social movements and the way that membership-based organizations have played an important part in developing the democratic system and in the building of the Swedish welfare state in the beginning of the last century. Service led organizations and other voluntary organizations have been important parts of the Swedish politics in their areas of expertise. The service led organizations are taking a growing responsibility of producing services financed by the state. At the same time there is a growing recognition about the importance to make the voices of the service users heard in the development of the services. Several national initiatives has been developed recently, organized by parties such as the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, and dialogue groups consulting the government.

There has however been little collaboration between social services and service user organizations on a local level. Service Users have had little influence on local public services, which can be one reason there are so many services developed by former service users in their member organizations. The same goes for the education of social work students. There are some examples of service user participation in the Schools of social work in Sweden, but as it is not required, it’s quite rare.



Angelin, Anna

“Service User Integration Into Social Work Education: Lessons Learned From Nordic Participatory Action Projects”, in Journal of Evidence-based Social Work.

Denvall, Verner, Heule, Cecilia & Kristiansen, Arne (2006)

On Equal Terms – a University Course for Social Work Students and Service Users. Lund: Socialhögskolan, Lunds universitet, Working Paperserien 2006:9.

Denvall, Verner & Heule, Cecilia & Kristiansen, Arne (2007)

Brukaren och socialarbetarutbildningen. in Svensson, Kerstin (red) Normer och normalitet i socialt arbete. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Denvall, Verner & Cecilia Heule & Arne Kristiansen (2008).

NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. Pedagogics for Diversity and Empowerment in Social Work Education. Paper presented at the IASSW conference, Durban, South Africa, July 2008.

Knutagård, Marcus & Arne Kristiansen (2013)

“Not by the Book: The Emergence and Translation of Housing First in Sweden”. European Journal of Homelessness, 7 (1): 93–115.



PowerUs Sweden consists of cooperation between teachers at Lund University, School of Social Work, and approximately 50 service user organizations. PowerUs Sweden networks with other Universities in Sweden on issues of service user participation in teaching and research.
School of Social Work, Lund University


Rainbow Sweden was created in 1996 with the purpose of stimulating cooperation between client-driven organisations within the drug rehabilitation sector. Today it consists of eight organizations. Our member’s activities differ, but their common goal is to improve the life of people suffering from exclusion and its consequences, notably those involved with drug abuse.


NSPH is a national cooperation to promote mental health. It consists of a number of service user and carer organizations within mental health care.






School of Social Work, Lund University