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Seven essentials for effective involvement

23 November 2023

Shaping Our Lives is a non-profit, user-led organisation. We’ve been working for over twenty years on inclusive and effective involvement, enabling people from diverse and seldom heard groups to have their say in the services that affect their lives.

We’ve done a lot of research into what makes involvement inclusive and how to remove the barriers to involvement that Disabled people and others from marginalised groups face. If the barriers are not removed then views, needs and perspectives may routinely go unheard, and further embed inequalities.

These seven essential elements for effective involvement are taken from the Improving Understanding of Service User Involvement and Identity – A Guide for Service Providers and Practitioners Organising Involvement Activities with Disabled People (November 2017). At the bottom of this post you’ll find relevant links including an infographic to download as a reminder of the information in this blog.

One: Equality

When involving service user representatives in involvement activities it is important to value their lived experience and consider them as experts. Power imbalances can be avoided by involving service users at each stage of the process, including deciding what the purpose of the activity is, agreeing objectives and outcomes, setting a time frame and evaluating the outcomes.

Things that can lead to power imbalances are: not listening to service users, using professional jargon, not meeting the access needs of everyone, not providing accessible papers in advance, not sharing all the relevant information, not involving service users in setting the agenda, putting all the service user agenda items at the end (and leaving the meeting when these agenda items are eventually discussed).

Two: Mutual respect

Involvement activities should be an opportunity for professionals and service users to listen to each other and gain mutually beneficial knowledge and understanding. There is considerable evidence that when service users become involved in designing policy and services there are improvements in efficiency and often cost savings for services.

However, many service user representatives feel that their knowledge is not respected.

Three: Ownership

If service user representatives are involved equally and shown mutual respect they can become fully involved, play an active role and contribute to the outcomes. If left on the side-lines people will not be able to develop a sense of ownership and contribute to the success of the activity.

Four: Structure

There needs to be a clear plan for the involvement activity that has been developed in consultation with the service user group who are represented in the process. This plan should describe the purpose of the activity, state the expectations of people involved and provide the functional details such as frequency, length and duration of involvement activities. It is particularly helpful to develop role descriptions for service user representatives when the involvement activity is an ongoing process.

Five: Commitment

Service user representatives often comment that involvement activities are most effective when there is a commitment from professionals, including senior managers, from all the relevant departments. This commitment is interpreted in many ways including the following:

  • Providing appropriate funding for the activities – so all access requirements can be met, expenses are funded, service user representatives are rewarded either financially or in other ways such as opportunities for personal development or accreditation.
  • An understanding of inclusive involvement of people with a range of impairments and health conditions – all professionals need to have disability equality training, knowledge about inclusive involvement and understand the principles of the social model of disability.
  • Provide appropriate support for service user representatives – it may be necessary to provide some training or mentoring for people to be able to complete the required tasks.
  • Realistic timescales – by allowing sufficient time for a service user involvement activity it can change the outcome from a tokenistic experience to a meaningful and productive one.

Six: Feedback

Many service user representatives say that they do not receive feedback on the outcome of the involvement activities they take part in. This makes people feel worthless and uninclined to take part in future activities.

Seven: Personal development

Personal development is a key motivator for service user representatives and includes: training, acquiring new skills, gaining knowledge, opportunity for paid or voluntary work, increased confidence, opportunity to network/make new friends, increased self-worth and finding out about services and organisations in the area.


Download our infographic with the seven essential elements of effective involvement as a handy reminder

Download a text only version of the seven essential elements of effective involvement as a quick reference bullet list

Download the full guide: Improving Understanding of Service User Involvement and Identity – A Guide for Service Providers and Practitioners Organising Involvement Activities with Disabled People

Can we help you?

Shaping Our Lives has over twenty years of expertise in inclusive involvement. We are one of the few truly user-led organisations who specialise in inclusive involvement. If you need further advice or guidance, don’t hesitate to get in touch:, or visit our Help with involvement page.