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Involving the users of guidance services in policy development
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Involving the users of guidance services
in policy development
Why involve service users? 2
Defining user involvement 3
Principles of user involvement 4
Involving users: possible approaches 4
Messages for the development of national
policy forums for guidance 7
This paper was produced with the support of the European Joint
thank the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
(NIACE) for contributing research expertise to the project.
Developing National Forums for Guidance in Six(‘MEDSUI’).The Guidance Council also wishes to
Why involve service users?
The conviction that end users should be actively involved in the
development of public services is one that has gained increasing
purchase in recent years.The rights and needs of individual
citizens are at the heart of the European discourse on citizenship,
and there is evidence of growing awareness in member states
that effective democracy means devolving to individuals and
communities the right to play an active role in shaping the
services that affect their lives.
In the United Kingdom, developing mechanisms to enable the
active engagement of end users in the shaping of policy,
planning and delivery is an increasingly apparent feature of
public service reform.This agenda has developed in response to
two key challenges, which are the need to:
secure sustainable improvements in public services; and
These concerns are closely interrelated, because services must
both meet the needs of users and be delivered at a cost and in a
way that is broadly acceptable to the public. It is anticipated that
enabling communities to help shape decisions about policies and
services will make services more responsive to user need, support
civil renewal and strengthen the legitimacy of institutions of
government. Proposals for the reform and ‘modernisation’ of
public services are often controversial, and citizen engagement is
recognised as crucial in the process of attempting to secure wider
public support and developing sustainable solutions
(ODPM/Home Office, 2005). Without active citizen involvement,
the danger is that services may be developed that do not reflect
people’s real needs or do not have the public benefit as their
main objective, and therefore neither represent value for money
nor enjoy public confidence and support.
Across a diverse range of recent policy initiatives, the
commitment to developing effective ways of engaging service
users in planning and decision-making processes has been
prominently articulated. For example, the 2006 further education
White Paper for England sets out an agenda to enable the
participation of learners in all aspects of decision making, from
national policy making to service delivery. A variety of
approaches are proposed to achieve this, including the
establishment of a National Learner Panel and the direct
involvement of learners in national and local agencies to increase
their potential to influence policy (DfES, 2006).Meanwhile, the
principle of transferring decision-making powers from national to
local and thence to neighbourhood or community level where
they can be exercised by citizens (lately dubbed ‘double
devolution’), informs numerous strategies, such as the 2005
sustainable communities strategy and the 2005 crossgovernmental
Yet despite this prevailing trend, no commitment has yet been
made to the involvement of users of adult guidance services in
policy development and nor have any firm proposals been made
for how such involvement might be achieved. It was therefore
decided that this would be an appropriate area of research for
the Guidance Council, within the context of development work
being undertaken to explore the possibility of establishing a
national policy forum for guidance and the need to explore how
the views of service users could be effectively represented on
such a forum.
Specific arguments for involving end users in the development of
guidance policy are:
engage citizens with the institutions of government.Together We Can (ODPM, 2005; Home
services that meet the needs of individuals, communities and
It ensures that policy supports the development of guidance
can be identified and addressed.
The barriers that prevent some groups from accessing services
involved in all stages of their development.
The quality of guidance services is enhanced when users are
Involving people effectively in policy development demands
commitment. Robust approaches are needed to ensure that their
views are genuinely listened to and taken into account, and their
contribution is not sought merely as a token gesture. However,
while there is abundant evidence of the growing commitment to
service user engagement in theory, an initial scoping exercise
suggested that this remains an area that is often not well
Good practice can be identified and disseminated.
INVOLVING THE USERS OF GUIDANCE SERVICES IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT
Defining user involvement
User involvement in policy development, planning and decision
making is not a straightforward concept, and it is important to be
clear about what it means.The engagement of users with public
services may take place on a range of levels, as Figure 1 illustrates.
Each of these different levels of engagement may be appropriate,
depending upon its particular purpose and scope within a given
context. Again, the purpose and scope of user involvement may
be represented in terms of a series of levels, as follows:
own experience of using the service.
Individual level – Individuals are involved in shaping their
suggest how to improve the operation of the service, set
priorities, identify gaps, address unmet needs, and so on.
Service level – Service users and other interested parties
strategic level of planning, developing and reviewing services.
Combining these two variables into a matrix suggests a possible
model for understanding the types of user involvement that are
required for different purposes.This model is set out in Figure 2.
Strategic level – Participation and consultation at the wider
Figure 1. Levels of engagement with service users
(model adapted from DAAT (2005), after Arnstein (1969))
Being told what is
Telling services what
it is like to use them
Involved in shaping
others what polices
and strategies need
Figure 2. A model for understanding types and purposes of
user involvement (DAAT, 2005)
Level 5 Partnership
Level 4 Participation
Level 3 Forums of
Level 2 Getting
Level 1 Giving
As this model makes clear, involving service users at the level of
policy and strategy development means moving well beyond the
provision of ‘customer service’-style feedback or the rubberstamping
of ideas that are already fully developed.Genuine user
involvement implies discussion, negotiation, capacity building
and partner-like arrangements between professionals and
ordinary people in the interests of developing sustainable,
‘bottom-up’ approaches. It relates to social inclusion, community
cohesion, active citizenship and participatory democracy. It
demands a real commitment to work alongside, rather than at
arm’s length from, citizens (Jude, 2003; Thompson, 2004).
Engagement of this kind aims to be empowering rather than
manipulative, and has the potential to ensure that policies are
developed that are consistent with the needs and interests of
It is worth stressing that the process of developing channels
through which users’ views can be heard and reflected at the
level of policy and strategy demands a more thoughtful and
complex interpretation of the idea of engagement than is
commonly applied within the guidance sector. Much activity that
is currently described as user consultation is designed to gauge
‘customer satisfaction’ to inform the operational development of
existing services.User satisfaction surveys and feedback forms, for
example, are directed towards this end.Of course such exercises
are valuable from the point of view of service development and
quality assurance and improvement. However, they should not be
conflated with the deeper,more creative and dialogical kinds of
involvement that would signal a serious attempt to involve both
users and non-users in the creation of policy and practice.
Principles of user involvement
When involving service users in policy development, by whatever
means, there are some basic guiding principles that should be
established from the start (Jude, 2003):
required from non-users as well as users, and from members of
specific groups (people from black and minority ethnic
communities, people with disabilities and/or learning
difficulties, unemployed people, ex-offenders, and so on).
Engaging people from different groups will require planning,
preparation and sensitivity to diverse needs.
Clarity in defining target groups. For example, views may be
act upon recommendations made to them by users should be
made clear. If there are limits to what can be achieved and
undertaken, people should be told that this is the case. People
will take into account constraints stated clearly at the
beginning of the engagement process.They will lose faith and
confidence where expectations about what will happen are
raised and then disappointed.
From the outset, the extent to which policy makers are able to
for telling people how their views will be used, and for feeding
back and updating on any actions subsequently taken.
‘Closing the feedback loop’.There should be a clear mechanism
These will provide guidance when differences and conflicts
arise, and help participants to evaluate whether they have
accomplished what they set out to achieve.
Establish common working values and protocols at the outset.
for it. Effective approaches to user engagement regard
payment as essential to securing people’s ongoing
engagement and commitment.
Valuing the expertise of ordinary people must include paying
processes may need to be addressed, for example through
support for childcare, varying the times of meetings and the
provision of translators.
Potential obstacles to users’ participation in consultation
confidence and authority, and enable them to better
understand what is possible and how to achieve it.
Participants may need training.Training will give people
Involving users: possible approaches
Adopting a strategic approach to user involvement is critical, as
doing so makes it possible to bring some coherence to any
mechanisms that are already in place, and to identify and address
gaps where appropriate. It also allows a mixed and flexible
approach to be developed, where different engagement methods
can be deployed, depending upon the specific issue under
In establishing mechanisms for user involvement, it will in many
cases be necessary to carry out some preliminary research to
map what is already in place and what is working well so that this
can be harnessed.There may already be a significant amount of
activity being undertaken at local, regional and national levels to
consult with ‘the customer’.Wherever possible, serious
consideration should be given to drawing and building upon
effective existing practice to avoid unnecessary duplication. Such
activities need not be directly related to guidance, education or
employment issues in order to use them as a vehicle for
consulting on guidance policy; they simply need to offer an
INVOLVING THE USERS OF GUIDANCE SERVICES IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT
Providing a mechanism for voices to be heard
‘Funnels’ or similar frameworks could be developed to capture
and bring together feedback from a number of sources,
stakeholders in the guidance sector should be encouraged to
make use of the opportunities offered by providers’ and
partners’ consultation mechanisms to ask specific questions,
with responses being fed back;
existing consultation exercises. Strategic partners and
guidance, for example learner champions, learner
representatives, learning ambassadors,Trades Union Learning
Representatives, nextstep networks, professional associations
and others. Focus groups would be an appropriate way of
capturing and transmitting views;
those working closely with users and potential users to deliver
example, learner forums, mental health service user forums,
consumer groups, and so on.
dialogue with existing service user forums, including, for
Sponsoring specific consultations
In addition to capturing feedback from existing sources, specific
policy-focused opportunities could be sponsored to enable the
influence of users and non-users to be exercised. For example:
involve service users.These would be an appropriate way for
policy makers to engage with groups or communities where
widening demand for and improving access to guidance
services has been prioritised.
Run bespoke consultation exercises that would not just
councils for voluntary service) to explore the potential for
working with the voluntary and community sector as a way of
engaging with users and non-users. Such cooperation could
build on the critical role of the voluntary sector as a source of
guidance expertise and conduit for information, in particular
through its work with disadvantaged or marginalised groups
which often includes a substantial embedded guidance
element. (In an exemplary development in the South East
region of England, the voluntary sector infrastructure body is
coordinating the Regional Assembly’s Partners’ Support Unit to
enable greater involvement in and influence of the Assembly
Approach umbrella bodies (such as regional forums or
groups of users and potential users working with, for example,
Adult Learners’Week and other award winners, nominees
identified by voluntary and community organisations, local
guidance providers and other service users’ forums. Such an
approach could have the potential to move from one-off
events providing feedback to a national policy forum for
guidance, to a network of regional forums through which
policy makers could consult with citizens on a wider range of
Commission an independent organisation to convene regional
Encouraging capacity building
To ensure that mechanisms for enabling user involvement are
effective and appropriate, it would be desirable for approaches to
be developed to encourage capacity building work around
eliciting, communicating and responding to high quality
feedback. Guidance practitioners and providers could play a role
in supporting this training, which could include, for example,
workshop training, developing training materials and
disseminating good practice.
Establishing a consultative user forum
A consultative forum can be a rigorous and creative way of
addressing many of the issues highlighted in the suggestions
above. Setting one up demands a serious commitment of time
and resources. However, the return is likely to be evident in much
more effective communication between policy makers, service
users, providers, practitioners, employers and other stakeholders,
resulting in the development of strategies and services that seek
to reconcile and reflect the needs of different parties. Set out
below are suggested steps in the establishment of a user forum
1 There are models in existence which could offer practical indications of how to proceed. For example, NIACE developed an ‘enabling framework’ for
a network of learning centres covering five counties in SW Wales (‘RISE’).
user? For example, to gain feedback on provision; to involve
service users and non-users in decision making; to identify
barriers to access.
What are the motives for consulting/involving the service
Is it necessary to capture the views of those currently not
using the service, as well as those who are?
Who is to be consulted/involved? Are there key target groups?
consultation? It is important to consider the level of
commitment among partners to consulting/involving service
users and to implementing the changes suggested.
What is expected to happen/change as a result of
There is a wide range of organisations and partnerships
working to provide services at local, regional and national level
which may already be involved in consulting local citizens.
Which organisations/partnerships are currently consulting?
related to specific issues around guidance, learning and work,
or may involve members of the target groups but address a
variety of key local issues, such as community development,
planning, and transport.
Why and how are they consulting? Existing activities may be
is of success and what difficulties have been experienced.
How effective is it? Consider in particular what evidence there
groups? It is likely that some groups are not being consulted
or involved, whereas others might be experiencing ‘over
consultation’ from a number of different directions. In the later
case, there may be opportunities for greater cooperation and
Are there gaps or duplication in relation to any key target
issues and questions be fed through existing mechanisms, or is
it necessary to develop new strands that will be accessible for
groups that are currently excluded?
What can be done to link with/build on existing activity? Can
In what ways can users be consulted/involved?
structured group discussions)
Formal methods (for example, targeted surveys, interviews,
Informal methods (for example, informal discussions,
innovative methods devised by participants)
Participatory methods (for example, forums, councils, new/
Electronic methods (for example, online).
4. Encouraging participation
agree to participate.Why should they contribute? This should
include both an indication of the time commitment and
structure of the consultation, as well as a realistic explanation
of the notice that will be taken of their views.
Users need to be told honestly what they can expect if they
example, ask them to set the agenda within a broad
framework, rather than simply feeding them questions.
How can users be encouraged to ‘own’ the process? For
Is a representative sample being consulted/involved?
be the most difficult group to involve.Methods to engage
them could include, for example, using peers to act as
intermediaries,working in partnership with other
organisations and through broad existing channels.
How can non-users of the service be involved? This is likely to
How will feedback be interpreted and change implemented?
Having a mechanism to ensure that feedback is given to those
who have been consulted is an essential element to ensure
How will users know that their views have had an impact?
5. Support and resource
What resources are needed to support the overall strategy?
Work with partners to discuss, develop and clarify purpose
Establishing links between existing activity to develop an
What skills/resources are needed for those working with the
Training/skills development for the facilitators
Training/skills development for the participants
INVOLVING THE USERS OF GUIDANCE SERVICES IN POLICY DEVELOPMENT
6. Monitor and review
What are the process issues?
Turnover of participants
Effectiveness of the mechanism
Perceptions and reflections of target groups.
What is the impact and effectiveness?
What are the criteria for success?
Evidence of success
Messages for the development of
national policy forums for guidance
A national guidance policy forum has the potential to function as
a genuine intermediary between service users, policy makers and
other stakeholders. In order to enable the effective working of the
various approaches to user involvement suggested here, and to
ensure that the voices of service users and potential users are
genuinely heard, such a forum would need to give careful
consideration to a number of issues by:
much consultation, but of who is consulted, how, about what,
where their voices go and how they are responded to;
setting a framework of expectations not just in terms of how
will be gathered together, analysed and disseminated;
determining where the findings of work with users and nonusers
important specific questions where there is little or
contradictory evidence from previous research or where the
views of particular groups have not been adequately sought;
determining how further consultation will be undertaken on
ensuring that ongoing dialogue is secured;
disseminate good practice in the sector; and
ensuring that users’ views are used to develop and
membership, and includes a broad range of voices from both
users and non-users of services.
Establishing effective practices for user engagement at policy
making level also has the potential to act as a powerful
encouragement to stakeholders, planners and providers involved
in the guidance field to reflect upon and develop their own
practice in relation to user involvement.
ensuring that user representation goes beyond token
Arnstein, S. (1969) ‘A ladder of citizen participation’,
Institute of Planning Journal
Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) (2005)
Home Office (2005)
Jude, C. (2003)
Education series, number 5. Leicester: NIACE.
ODPM/Home Office (2005)
Services: Why Neighbourhoods Matter.
Deputy Prime Minister.
Thompson, J. (2004) ‘Lost in translation’,
American, 35(4), pp. 216–224.Consultative Fora: Good Practice for LearningLondon:Department for Education andFurther Education: Raising Skills, Improving LifeLondon:Department for Education and Skills.Involving ServiceAt: http://www.croydon.gov.uk/socialcare/Together We Can. London: Civil Renewal Unit.Consulting Adults. NIACE Lifelines in AdultSustainable Communities: People, Places andLondon: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.Community Engagement and PublicLondon:Office of theAdults Learning,
16(3), pp. 14–16.
Copyright 2006 The Guidance Counn the delivery of
services, and to campaign for equal access to careers education,
information advice and guidance for all.
The Guidance Council's website is www.guidancecouncil.com
Registered charity no. 1073968
A company limited by guarantee no. 3540922
Typeset by Prestige
da Vinci, Youth Programmes
This project has been funded with support from the
European Union.This publication reflects the views
only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held
responsible for any use which may be made of the
information contained therein.
opportunity to consult with the public about guidance issues.
Indeed,working through other bodies is especially important in
the guidance context, because of the distinctive nature of the
relationship between guidance service users and providers.
People generally use guidance services in episodic, often isolated
encounters, meaning that, especially where adults are concerned,
they are unlikely to have the kind of ongoing relationship with
the service that is found in education, health or housing, for
Set out below is a range of possible approaches, which could be
explored in order to involve both users and non-users in the
development of adult guidance policy and services.
understood in practice. Furthermore, the foundations upon which
to build service user involvement in guidance policy
development do not appear strong.There is little evidence that
users are yet systematically involved in strategic planning for
guidance service delivery, even at the level of individual
providers.This omission is particularly striking in light of the
guidance profession’s strong tradition of putting the user at the
centre of professional practice.The purpose of this paper,
therefore, is to encourage exploration within the guidance sector
of the issues surrounding user involvement, and to set out some
possible approaches. Although it has been produced within the
context of development work on national policy forums for
guidance, it will also be of interest to those involved in strategic
planning of guidance services at regional, local and provider
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