Service User Involvement and Coproduction in Social Work Education and Practice Development: A Narrative Review

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Aim: To examine empirical research studies relating to the involvement of service users and carers in social work education and practice.
Method: This was a small-scale narrative review based on a systematic search of three electronic databases: PsycINFO, Social Care On-Line, Social Services Abstracts. The studies were summarised and primary study findings were thematically analysed. The review is introduced, and study findings are discussed, with particular reference to the context of Northern Ireland social work practice.

Findings: Eleven studies were retrieved; nine from the UK, one from Australia and one from Netherlands and Belgium. The majority of literature retrieved in the review related to service user involvement in social work educational settings. Three main themes were identified from the included studies, these were; meaningful involvement, challenges and outcomes of service user involvement. There is a significant focus on what factors make the involvement of service users meaningful. With clear messages from service users that they regard feeling valued, making purposeful contributions, knowing the outcomes of their contributions and being paid as key indicators that their involvement is meaningful. Service users, carers, lecturers, social workers and social work students offer positive feedback on service user involvement and coproduction. Although, the literature suggests long established practices involving service users in educational settings, the work is not problem free and the range of challenges and barriers as identified by service users, professionals and academics are discussed. In terms of outcomes, these are largely articulated from the perspective of those service users or students involved in service user projects. Service users experienced an increase in their own personal skills, development, a growth in confidence and an increase in social opportunities were highlighted as being crucially important to them. Social work students report valuable insights into service user issues, an increase in knowledge and skills and opportunities to reflect upon their core social work values.

Conclusions: Whilst, the experience of service user involvement is largely positive, more focus on the inherent challenges and barriers to the involvement of service users in social work education would be prudent. There is an opportunity to focus on outcomes, more explicitly, identifying the factors that make involvement meaningful for the individual and effective in the development of social work practice. Empirical research has focussed on the education and training of social workers and the contributions that service users can make to it. There is limited research evidence to reflect how the approach is implemented in statutory social work practice. More research may contribute to the limited evidence base and development of useful frameworks and models that can be practically applied across all social work settings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Association of Social Workers
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Nov 2019


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