Critical reflection

Besides all the positive aspects discussed above, we are aware that the work done on service user involvement in our department is only a starting point: coming back to the qualification framework of social work introduced above, there are a large number of areas for possible service user involvement which we have not yet addressed. Future work might find a role for service users in the other areas such as “knowledge and understanding” and especially “description, analysis and evaluation”: service users could be involved in defining criteria to evaluate successful social work. Service users could also be involved in planning and conceptualization, research and organization. One interesting, related question is “What are the motives of service users for participating in SUI projects?” (see Grant 2012). When deciding where to include SUI in our social work course, we chose the area of intervention as a starting point. Looking back, this decision seems reasonable. However, there are other areas where SUI approaches might enrich teaching: e.g. the area “Societal context of social work” might benefit from SUI, e.g. by service users, teachers and students working on sociological themes such as poverty which frequently befalls service users (see Gupta/Blevitt 2008). Similarly, service users might participate in shaping the organizational framework of social work and also in defining scientifically relevant areas of research. SUI approaches will be continued at our university in a variety of ways: on the one hand, we intend to keep collaborating with individual service users and service user organizations such as EX-IN and the “Friends of People with Addictions” (Freundeskreise Suchtkrankenhilfe). Indeed, there are plans to take collaboration to a higher level by initiating contact with organizations on a federal and national level. On the other hand, we intend to bring SUI approaches to a variety of service user groups not yet involved, such as children in care settings, refugees and older people. Another aim is to anchor SUI approaches more deeply in the faculty – initial discussions with colleagues have been positive. We will draw inspiration from sources such as Advocacy in Action (2006) and Askheim (2011) as well as Baldwin and Sadd (2006). Other perspectives include developing new ways of assessment for students, such as role-plays to assess readiness for practice (Skilton 2011; Duffy/Das/Davidson 2013), an approach that is also used in medical education.

We conclude that even though we were able to gain significant new insights and initiate some interesting developments, some questions remain. On a conceptual level, as briefly discussed in Laging and Heidenreich (submitted),  a broader inclusion of SUI principles in the faculty (e.g. in other areas of the BA curriculum) raises a number of questions that need answering before SUI principles can be realized in more depth. One of these questions is the possible role of service users in academic areas such as examinations (as in Great Britain). Also, empowering service users to participate in social work education as equals will be an important issue because, after their experiences with hierarchical structures, discussions with professionals on an equal footing can problematic. Also, even though our first impressions were very positive, it cannot be ruled out that there might be negative effects of SUI: e.g. vulnerable service users might be stressed by interactions with students, while students might find difficulties in maintaining a professional role. More research is needed to find answers to these questions. More specifically, studies should be initiated that evaluate the effects of SUI projects on a number of dimensions, such as student’s attitudes towards service users and vice versa. Also, it should be made sure that service users are able to attend meetings at regional, national and international levels; while professors can usually get funding for traveling to international conferences, service users are very often financially challenged, thus making it impossible to attend meetings without special funding. Finally, we are in the process of introducing SUI approaches into the German professional discussion (Laging /Heidenreich in press).


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