Preparation for Engagement


Accessing and recruiting users and carers to engage in education and research activities may not always be easy. This leaflet highlights good practice in addressing such issues to enable true and effective participation.

Proactive Recruitment

  • What mix of people do you need?
  • How many people do you need?
  • Consider age, gender and ethnicity.

Once you know your representative group you need to provide definitions or role descriptors. This is useful when you start advertising for people to join your group. Make sure your service users and carers are representative of your local population where possible and that they understand whether they are representing themselves or a group. Remember that some people are further marginalised even within a defined group. They are often the most socially excluded people.  Discrimination is not just the behaviour of non disabled people, be aware that languages and labels can create barriers to effective engagement by service users, carers and academics. Many disabling conditions are not seen and remain hidden so be careful not to exclude them.  You should include a range of people who have both good and bad experiences of health and social care services. Certain faculties or departments may have their own ideas about the representative groups they would like to see involved, and may want to target various populations for various reasons eg. ethnicity.

Marketing and Publicity

Publicity materials can send hidden messages about your organisation’s ethos and the value you place on people, so therefore you must be careful what you say and how you say it (refer to Engagement in marketing leaflet). Remember that some people will not have the skills or confidence to engage with a poster or be able to carry out its instructions, so keep things simple and eye catching. Work with your group to find out the best places to display your posters such as local shops especially if it has a post office (people standing in queue waiting will have the time to read your poster) ( Bus queue, supermarkets, websites, word of mouth).
The most common way to find your volunteers is word of mouth so the more people involved the better their experiences, the more chance you have of wider recruitment. A leaflet that shows the most commonly asked questions can help people understand what‘s being asked of them and it will help reduce their concerns and fears. When making contact be flexible in organising meetings, consider expenses. Build your relationships with service users and get to know them.

Managing practical considerations.

Expenses for volunteers are a difficult area but it is important for the service user to feel valued for giving their time. All organisations need to consider this within their own framework and establish flexible payment systems. This may mean you need to review policies and procedures. As a bottom line, consult with service users and carers about their practical considerations. Other considerations if people are coming into the building you need to consider:

  • Parking and access
  • The room
  • For a carer there may be a nursery cost or an adult sitter cost.   (You may find the following website useful ).

Case Study

I cannot remember the exact month I received my phone call from Dr Elizabeth Boath (Liz) but it was during a very dark and lonely time in my life. Liz rang to see if I was interested in joining a training course aimed at setting up a Service User and Carer engagement network at Staffordshire University. The group would be given opportunities to work with students who were following degree courses in Health and Social Care.

Liz explained that evidence from various research papers concluded that if you involved service users and carers in the students training, their learning experience was enhanced. Liz then explained that she was looking for service users and carers who could share with the students about their experiences, expectations and expertise. A six week training course would help prepare me and allow me to develop new skills around involvement and engagement with staff and students at the university. Liz was very enthusiastic and persuasive, so I signed up.

On arriving for the first session I found a suitable parking space reserved for me  (I use a wheel chair) someone called Barbara met me in reception, she showed me to the meeting room where many other people were waiting all with cups of tea and coffee, chatting away, and  “the rest is history”. Since I have been involved with the service user and carer group for three years I have come to understand just how important service user and carer involvement and engagement is.

The after affects of giving up work because of my chronic health and mobility problems resulted in reducing my confidence and I felt a worthless.  I now appreciate how my experiences and expertise as a service user is both valuable and powerful, it can give the students a new perspective that theory and service providers cannot. I am a real-life illustration of the theory that they are learning. The students share my practise, of how things impact on my life and me as a person, rather than reading a quote from a textbook.

I have learnt a lot from meeting other service users and carers, they have shown me that that involvement can be done in many different ways, not just the usual meeting but by painting pictures that make images speak for the service user. I found poetry a useful medium to explore my emotions and in 2008 I co-authored a paper that incorporated some of my work. Engagement is a very positive endorsement for service users and carers to be seen by students working in Health and Social Care that as service users, we are experts in our own health and experiences.