The Simon Heng Column

I recently took part in a conference organised by the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which focused on service user involvement in the inspection process. Among some innovative ideas on how to engage with service users, it struck me that the difficulties faced in the inspection process are the same and have the same origins as the difficulties that service providers have when trying to promote meaningful service-user involvement.

“What’s it got to do with me?” In the same way that few of us care about how Tesco manages to fill its shelves, most service users don’t know and, frankly, don’t care about the administrative processes that lie behind the services, and that includes planning, monitoring and inspection. They just want to be assured that the services they need are the right ones and available.

“Why should I stick my neck out?” A friend told me recently that she had used the same window cleaner for 20 years, even though he was terrible. Some people care, particularly if they have bad experiences, but are often afraid to complain because they fear, rightly or wrongly, that at the very least they will be putting themselves under the spotlight and at worst be victimised for whistle-blowing. Many people feel that it’s preferable to suffer a poor-quality service in silence rather than risk being labelled a troublemaker. And who could blame them, when the very people they are meant to complain to are often the managers?

“What’s the use of complaining? Nothing will change anyway.” Many people who would like to see services improved, for themselves and other people, still feel that their voices will not be heard. There are too many examples, even today, of consultation exercises and research projects which don’t give any feedback to the people who contributed in the first place. How many times have you avoided people with clipboards in the street because there’s nothing in it for you?

Involvement has to mean something for people to want to be involved.

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