Principles of Engagement


Working together to increase understanding of service users’ and carers’ experiences requires us to have a set of principles for engagement.  Principles are the stepping stones for effective service user and carer engagement and illuminate the core values, beliefs, and attitudes essential for meaningful engagement.

The principles by which we engage service users and carers in higher education can contribute to:

  • Improved understanding between the service users, carers, students and colleagues within the HEI
  • Increased levels of participation by users and carers; which ultimately has the power to transform the next generation of practitioners
  • Reduced risks of misunderstanding, misrepresentation or  mistreatment of  service users and carers
  • Efficient use of resources by working together
  • A shared partnership which ultimately aims to improve services which will provide a better quality of life for service users and carers.

Principles: Stepping Stones for Engagement

Engagement requires a long term commitment to building partnership arrangements across all aspects of learning, teaching and research.  This partnership incorporates service users and carers, staff and students. The key principles of engagement are:

Achievement: Recognising the challenges and working with service users and carers to transform the barriers to engagement.

Change:  To be open to different ways of working and to recognise change is inherent in HEIs.  ‘Change is a time of leaving the safe place where you know and entering a strange place where you do not know’ (Florence, 2002, p11)

Choice: Ensuring the rights of service users and carers to decide where and how they get involved.

Commitment:  The organisation must demonstrate a commitment to welcome and include service users’ and carers’ voices in all aspects of the work in accordance with university policy and regulations.

Integrity: A belief in the value of service users’ and carers’ contributions and the differences their experiences can make to education and research. 

Respect: Treating people as you would like to be treated and acknowledging peoples’ differences.

Transparent:  The organisation must show willingness to change the equilibrium of power towards service users and carers and to demonstrate open policy and procedures that promote engagement.

Valuing difference: Respecting the individual uniqueness of people and challenging negative stereotypes and attitudes.

"Service users cannot be empowered unless staff are empowered, and that empowerment is not a technical change - something that is put in place in one part of the organisatio - but that the whole culture must be an empowering one." ( Parsloe and Stevenson, 1993)

Principles in action: getting started

Principles are just the beginning of a meaningful and worthwhile relationship, between the service user and staff member. Once we have established the principles for engagement together we need to ask what we want to achieve by the engagement of service users and carers.

As you work through the toolkit, keep the following principles of engagement in mind. Then consider some specific questions on how you can achieve the principles identified.

Figure 1. Principles of Engagement


Question for consideration


What might be the potential barriers to service users and carers engagement?

What actions will the University have to take to address these barriers?


How will the university make use of the knowledge gained from service users’ and carers’ involvement to influence the design and delivery of social work and health programmes?


How will you work with the service users and carers to ensure the most effective means of involvement?

How will you ensure the task identified will be in proportion to the service users’ and carers’ abilities?


Does the organisation have a commitment to value and welcome service users and carers?

Is there an active service users and carers engagement strategy? Is it audited/evaluated? Who is involved in this process?

Who is the senior manager responsible for progressing engagement?


How will you seek the views of service users and carers about engagement?

What mechanisms are in place to ensure what we agree with service users and carers will be followed up?


In what ways do you value the expertise and time of your service users and carers?


 Are you clear about the purpose for service user and carer involvement?

Valuing Difference

What arrangements do you have in place to involve the widest possible range of people, including those who are “rarely heard”?


On reflection

Think about these principles and ask ‘how do they apply to  my organisation?’


Florence, S.S. (2002) Change…. Is a place where new journeys begin UK: Helen Exley

General Social Care Council(GSCC)(2006). Principles of participation London: GSCC

Parsloe, P. and Stevenson, O. (1993). Community care and empowerment York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Philpot, T. (1993). “Foreward”, in P. Beresford, and T. Harding, (eds). Practical experiences of building a challenge to user-led services to change. London.: National Institute of Social Work  (Pp 1-4).