Eight top tips for beneficiary involvement

Don’t be tokenistic with your user involvement Tokenistic user involvement can be more damaging than no user involvement at all. People who are using the services of a charitable group or organisation will often feel disempowered or excluded, may not be used to giving their views on services or feel that if they do, their views won’t be taken seriously. It is crucial that you do everything you can to support individuals to give feedback, show that you have listened and demonstrate the changes that have happened as a result of what they have said. If you cannot make changes as a result of their input, let people know that and explain why. If beneficiaries feel that they have been listened to, the benefits to them as individuals will be long lasting.  Set beneficiary expectations If you are consulting different sets of people on an issue you need to be clear on this. It needs to be made apparent from the start if several groups of beneficiaries or stakeholders are going to be consulted and if beneficiaries are not going to have the chance to change the direction fundamentally say that upfront. Don’t consult on an issue if the organisation has no intention of changing it. Be creative in involving beneficiaries It’s a special person who truly enjoys filling in feedback forms, satisfaction surveys and attending user involvement meetings. If you really want to engage your beneficiaries, be creative, get them involved in a variety of different ways. Use colour, use sculpture or art or make things. Set up activities involving sport and theatre. Many people love food and enjoy cooking and will tell you many things over a social bite to eat. When people are focused on doing and being creative they will often relax, and chat and tell you what they really think. Question your assumptions Just because you think the menu in the canteen is dull, it doesn’t mean they do. Be open and curious. Be prepared to challenge your assumptions and change your own mind. Be sensitive and respectful towards your beneficiaries People are coming to your charity for help.They may be recovering from a  traumatic life experience or coming to terms with a new reality. Their whole perspective on life might be undergoing a fundamental change. Think about it. Is now really the best time to involve them in a satisfaction survey or ask about your charity’s five-year plan? Widen the beneficiary pool beyond the usual suspects In every organisation or group there’s always that usual crew of people who just love to tell you what they think and are delighted to sit on every steering committee. It’s great to have this and such enthusiasm must of course be welcomed. But these individuals are not always representative of all beneficiaries and you need to be sensitive to also engaging beneficiaries who do not get so readily involved.    Invest time in your beneficiaries Of course, the great thing about the usual suspects is that they are so quick and easy! The difficult thing about real user involvement is it takes time. It can be a long journey to work with individuals and support them to become involved. But these people will be giving you invaluable feedback to help make your services better, often with little if any financial recompense. Make it safe for beneficiaries to get involved If they tell you what they really think of their support worker or the manager, can your beneficiaries be really, really sure that you won’t accidentally tell the manager. Can they be really, really sure that they won’t be labelled a trouble maker and ostracised and denied services? Don’t wait until they ask you about confidentiality – address this point up front and at the beginning. If what they say will not be treated in the utmost confidence say so and allow people to tailor their responses accordingly. If you have any doubt about your ability to guarantee confidentiality do not put your service user at risk – you need to let them know. Useful Links Participation Works

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