Benefits of forming an Advisory Group
While some service users and carers will engage with the learning environment as individuals – perhaps recruited by a particular lecturer to give a talk or invited to join a committee by a mentor – there are some advantages to forming an Advisory Group. These include:
- Joining a community helps people to stay engaged when they may have dropped out of individual participation
- There is potential to seek advice from a wider group rather than just a single person, especially where group members are themselves connected to wider networks and groups
- Participants learn from one another, helping newcomers to feel at home and understand the wider context
- The group can take an oversight role to see how the whole service is developing a coherent service user and carer strategy
- Shared training and development needs can be identified and conveniently met.
Examples of this sort of advisory group operate at Salford, Surrey, UEA and the Success Group at Wolverhampton. At Edge Hill University, the The Service User and Carer Council is made up of staff and service users and carers and meets four times a year to take a strategic overview, while the wider Service User & Carer Group is a forum open to all and meets twice yearly.
Link to an existing group
As an alternative, some learning providers or clinical teams establish a formal relationship with a community group or organisation that can provide this service on an outsourced basis.
Variations on this approach include the relationship that the University of the West of England has with Misfits Theatre Company (learning disability), the University of Nottingham has with Making Waves (mental health), the University of Lincoln had with Lost Luggage (young people) and the University of Hertfordshire has with Viewpoint (mental health and substance misuse).
Steps to forming an Advisory Group
Forming a new group can take some time and effort. The following steps may be needed:
- Plan for the long term. For example, SE-SURG was formed in 2005, and continues to develop its role. Ensure that you have dedicated time and funding to provide proper support for the group in the medium term. All groups should reimburse expenses involved in participating, and some groups will offer a participation payment too. Offering tea, coffee and lunch is a good way to say ‘thank you’ to people for their contribution.
- Decide on the membership profile. For example, at Canterbury Christchurch University, The LOUD advisory group is formed of co-teachers with learning disabilities and is tasked with monitoring and developing education in Learning Disabilities within the University. LOUD members assist in the delivery of teaching to students of Adult Nursing, Mental Health Nursing, Midwifery and other health disciplines, and their contribution in the context of a simulated ward has been evaluated by Nazarjuk et al 2013.
- Work out the relationship between the Advisory Group and the wider constituency of service users and carers who are involved in nurse education. At Bournemouth University, for example, there are some 90 people who together form the Carer and Service User Partnership.
- Create a brief description of the role of the group, along with practical details such as meetings dates and times, venue, access arrangements.Decide on the best membership for the group – its diversity and the extent to which individual members are networked into other constituencies will be key factors for service users and carers
- Decide whether academic and clinical staff are members of the same group or not. In one example, the Service User and Carer Council at Edge Hill University has one place for an academic and two for service users/carers for each discipline, while at the University of Essex, the membership is made up of equal numbers of service users and academics. In some places, service users and carers are recruited for their connections with a wider constituency, rather than as lone voices. In contrast, at the University of Central Lancashire, Comensus insists that service users and carers lead everything at their annual community groups congress.
- Clarify the status of the group in respect of other management, advice and communication systems within the organisation. This may involve identifying a senior sponsor who lends support and recognition to the group.
- Make contact with a range of community groups and organisations to advertise your plans and seek help in reaching people.
- Decide on who will occupy the formal roles in the group – agenda, host, chair, minutes. If you want to move from a staff-led to a user-led organisation, think about how to achieve this transition. All members of the Public Participation Group at the University of Nottingham are paid for their contribution. If membership of the group entails further desk-work or liaison, this is also paid for in full by the School. Meanwhile, a service user or carer is paid to chair the Advisory Group at the University of Lincoln.
- Plan for staying in touch between meetings.