The UCLan Engagement and Service User Support (Comensus) project: Valuing authenticity making space for emergence.

Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550, Mckeown, Mick orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0235-1923, Johnson, Eileen, Koloczek, Lidia, Grunwald, Angela and Malihi-shoja, Lisa (2007) The UCLan Engagement and Service User Support (Comensus) project: Valuing authenticity making space for emergence. Health Expectations, 10 (4). pp. 392-406. ISSN 1369-7625

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Objective  To develop and evaluate service user, carer and community involvement in health and social care education.

Background  Despite the high policy profile of involvement issues, there appear to be no published accounts of schemes that have used a systematic whole-faculty approach to community engagement in health and social care higher education.

Focus of this paper  The set up and early development of a faculty-wide community engagement project.

Setting and participants  Staff from the faculty of health in one University, local service users and carers and community group project workers and local National Health Service (NHS) and public sector staff.

Design  Participatory action research including document review, field notes, questionnaires and interviews.

Analysis  Thematic analysis. The emerging themes were tested by seeking disconfirming data, and through verification with stake-holders.

Results  Prior to the study, there were examples of community engagement in the participating faculty, but they occurred in specific departments, and scored low on the ‘ladder of involvement’. Some previous attempts at engagement were perceived to have failed, resulting in resistance from staff and the community. Despite this, an advisory group was successfully formed, and project framing and development evolved with all stake-holders over the subsequent year. The four themes identified in this phase were: building accessibility; being ‘proper’ service users/carers;moving from suspicion to trust: mutually respectful partnerships as a basis for sustainable change; and responses to challenge and emergence.

Conclusions  Successful and sustainable engagement requires authenticity. Many problems and solutions arising from authentic engagement are emergent, and potentially challenging to organizations.

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