Abstract: This Is What We Find Helpful! Users' Involvement in Reinforcing Social Work Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

This Is What We Find Helpful! Users' Involvement in Reinforcing Social Work Practice

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 8:30 AM
Union Square 16 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Sidsel Natland, PhD, Associate professor, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
Background and Purpose: There is a strong policy drive that users should be involved in the delivery of social services. In Norway, the requirement of users’ involvement is highlighted in both health and social services acts. Involvement may improve the quality of services by clarifying users’ needs. However, research shows limited evidence of changes, and uncertainty about how to carry out involvement in practice. Also, there is limited research on what the users themselves regard helpful.

This paper is a contribution to fill this gap by examining what a group of Norwegian social services users in need of long term services regarded as helpful in their encounters with the services, and arguing that the method used is promising when aiming at involving users as co-creators in improving social work practices.

Methods: Data was collected through the participative method search conferences. Participants act as a planning community, aiming at creating a plan for future practices, based on shared ideals. Three search conferences were conducted (2 with users only, 1 with users and social workers). The conferences produced data from 70 participants, aged 20-65, 2/3 male and 1/3 female, predominantly ethnic Norwegians. They were recruited by their local social services. The project was approved by local managements as a way of developing new methods for their required involvement of the users.

The participants was divided in groups of 6-8, all answering the questions individually («What have you been most satisfied with and experienced as most helpful in your meetings with the social services, and why?»), analysing them in the group and at last presenting them for the whole conference. All findings were integrated into a final list.

Analysis of data was carried out as a manual coding process where researcher and users' representatives collaborated. It was informed by interpretative phenomenological analysis, aiming at capturing the users’ voices and the institutional context they are embedded in.

Findings: Coding show that positive experiences were connected to 1) how the users were  recognized, 2) the professional’s knowledge and competences, including skills in interprofessional work, 3) Inclusion and the importance of social networks. These were further analysed as themes that indicate important drivers for giving and recieving effective services: Relation, mutuality, choice, time, knowledge and the sharing of knowledge.

These themes are of importance because they give proof of what the users find that the social worker should focus and improve in their practice. For the professional it is significant in order to fulfill policy goals of coaching the users towards work, income and quality of life. Further, the study provides an interesting example of how the social services may enable meaningful user involvement – the conference method is promising as it is an artefact that encourages mutual knowledge change.

Conclusions and Implications: The study highlight the importance of giving voice to users’ assessments of empowering and effective social work practice. The results have implications beyond its’ local context as the study demonstrates how dialogue conferences may enable meaningful participation in both reviewing and co-designing social services.