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Effective service user involvement – how to build trust

20 November 2023

When it comes to effective and inclusive involvement, trust is crucial to enable people with lived experience to feel comfortable to share their stories. This is especially vital for those who have experienced discrimination, trauma, or denial of services, and for those from communities that have a low level of engagement with services.

How do you build trust? This blog contains extracts from our longer paper, Building Trust and Making it Meaningful, based on our conversations with service users at our 2022 Thinking Outside the Tickbox conference. There is also a handy infographic to download with the summary of the main points of this blog.

The personal touch

It should go without saying, but don’t treat people like commodities. People don’t want to feel like they are simply a token tickbox inclusion in a project. If you want to build trust, and if you want effective service user involvement, you have to build a relationship with people.

  • Develop a genuine, compassionate rapport with people.
  • Understand who people are as individuals. Ask about people’s interests, hobbies and prior involvement activities.
  • Share your own experiences as well if they are relevant to the topic, but do not dominate the conversations.

Language and words

Language can be a barrier, not just when it’s a language someone doesn’t speak or understand, but also using acronyms and terminology that is not easily understood can create a sense of “us versus them”.

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Use Plain English.
  • Provide translation and interpretation.
  • Research what language and terminology resonates with different communities and cultures. For example, avoid “people with disabilities” (something that is explained in the Social Model of Disability).

Consistency and time

Trust won’t be rushed so try to ensure plenty of time for planning and activities.

  • Make sure you have time to get people involved and develop a relationship with them.
  • You also need to build in time to feedback and check in with people when the activities are finished.
  • Have a named contact person for things relating to the involvement activities, and try to ensure the staff member/ team involved stays consistent whenever possible.
  • Provide on-going opportunities to get involved, not just one-off consultations. However, if your involvement is a single event, follow-up contributors at the end of the study to thank them and share your outcomes.

Shared goals

Working towards shared goals will build trust by making sure everyone is on the same page about what the activities are for and what outcomes you all want.

  • Ask service users to set the goals alongside you rather than imposing them.
  • Make clear what you’re trying to achieve and listen to the views of others if they think there are barriers to achieving this.
  • Be honest about what’s possible, this helps to avoid disappointment or demotivation later in a project or study.

Unwanted views

Be open to hearing all views and experiences, even those which might be critical of your organisation or not align with the views of the majority.

Make it clear to all people involved that their views are valued – don’t assume they know – tell them, show them.

You said, we did

Many people get involved because they are keen to make a difference. When they have no idea of the outcomes of their time and efforts, or when they perceive that “nothing’s changed”, this will undermine their good will and trust.

  • Follow up listening with action.
  • Tell people what you’ve done as a result of their involvement.
  • If something couldn’t be done, tell them why.
  • And don’t forget to include time to follow up with people – especially if they have shared things which were difficult or traumatic.


Doing involvement effectively, inclusively and meaningfully requires commitment. It needs time, thought, money, and people resources.

  • Plan timescales that mean you don’t have to rush.
  • Commit to meeting people’s access and support requirements.
  • Set a budget for access, support costs and expenses.
  • Commit to paying people for their time (or a system of rewards and recognitions that help people to feel that their contributions are valued).
  • Remove barriers to inclusion – who isn’t in the room and why?

Download the plain text version of the infographic (Word)

Find out more

To find more about how to build trust with service users, and read quotes from those who attended our conference in 2022, please download our paper Building trust and making it meaningful.

Find all the conference papers here: Thinking Outside the (Tick)box November 2022

Shaping Our Lives has over twenty years’ experience working for inclusive involvement. We have lots of knowledge to share – please find out more about what we offer and how we could help you. Or pop us an email to start a conversation about what you need and how we can help –

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