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Experience and meaning of user involvement: some explorations from a community mental health project

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Abstract

With an increased interest in and policy commitment to involving service users in the planning and delivery of health service provision, there is a clear need to explore both the rhetoric and realities of what user involvement entails. In the present paper, by drawing upon an evaluation of a community-based exercise facility for people with mental health problems, the authors explore ways in which the reality of user involvement is subject to a range of configurations within health services. The paper describes a piece of qualitative research that was undertaken within a participatory framework to explore the nature of user involvement within the facility. The data have been analysed using a grounded theory approach to provide insights into: the organisational context in which user involvement takes place; factors which encourage meaningful participation on the part of service users; perceived barriers to user involvement; and issues of sustainability and continuity. This research approach has enabled the authors to explore the views and experiences of users, service providers and referral agencies in relation to the nature and potential for user involvement. The findings illustrate ways in which user involvement may take place under both flexible and formal arrangements across a variety of activities. The present paper provides an account of some of the meanings and experiences of what ‘successful’ user participation may involve and the conditions which underpin ‘success’. The authors conclude that successful and meaningful user involvement should enable and support users to recognise their existing skills, and to develop new ones, at a pace that suits their particular circumstances and personal resources. This process may require adaptation not only by organisations, but also by service providers and non-involved users.
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Keywords: mental health; organisational context; participatory research; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Applied Social Science, Cartmel College, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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