User Led Participation – What’s The Craic?

User Led Participation is a bit of a fancy term for what the Free To Live Leeds group have been working in partnership with places like Bradford College for the last 2 years. Working directly with student social workers they’ve used their own real life experiences as examples to showcase how decisions have a real impact on someone’s life. It’s hoped that by exposing students to these at an early stage of their training will open their minds to reduce the risk of being just a “part of the system” – glorified form fillers, treating cases individually on unique merits, remembering each time the person that’s involved is central to their work and efforts.

A recent decree was handed down by the General Social Care Council that such courses must have user led participation as a fundamental part of its core. This as you might have guessed by now, got me thinking…

If courses already actively engage in ULP, great. However they may only be regularly accessing a limited selection of views and experiences when working with the same group of people. Whilst students can learn much from the emotional impact of interacting with someone in person, this approach can unintentionally exclude views and experiences of others, who for whatever reason struggle to interact; either through a lack of confidence appearing in public or talking in front of a group of people, to more practical transport limitations.

Given many HE facilities are increasingly making use of E-Learning, a viable and accessible alternative is required to encompass a wider range of views and experiences from a larger selection of service users. The idea that I’ve pitched to all 64 universities currently offering a social worker course can either supplement existing ULP where appropriate, or provide an opportunity to adopt ULP and runs in a similar fashion to how we educate at WSI – webinars.

FreeToLive are offering interactive online training sessions as a customised presentation programme. Speakers can either come from the FreeToLive volunteers, or indeed any service user around the country, whether they are currently engaging with a university or not. I’m not suggesting that this should replace anything already in place. There should always be, where possible, direct one to one firsthand experience for students to learn from. But if a larger group of students can learn from a wider range of experiences not just isolated to their locality, it must surely only be of benefit to them?

The added benefits of conducting such a programme online go much further. Asides from cost saving, whitepapers, document downloads, tests, slide copies, webinar recordings can be accessed by students in their own time, allowing them to repeat sections or go over the material again. The detail that we can provide lecturers on their students who attend is also invaluable; who signs up; who actually attends; how long they attend for; what questions they ask; how interactive they are; how well they do on tests; even how attentive they are. Again, this isn’t a replacement, it’s all information that can help to enhance their opinions about their students and how well they’re doing.

Information sharing is one of many keys to improving service provision, and our culture and society as a whole. Technology can facilitate that. I hope that this, along with some of the other ideas that I plan to put forward can help to coordinate many of the good things that are already going on out there. Their effect will be all the more powerful if they can constructively work together and learn from each other, the basic premise of a network which anyone needing should then be able to access from wherever they are.

Putting the idea into practice though is a whole other thing! The proposal has already received a high level of interest and positive feedback from many universities despite the current summer hiatus. I’m extremely hopeful that in the coming weeks when everyone returns that I’ll have more positive news to bring you about this on here.


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