‘Critical perspectives on user involvement’ author interview

Critical perspectives on user involvement coverThe Policy Press is delighted to present another one in our occasional series of author interviews, this time with Marian Barnes (MB) and Phil Cotterell (PC), joint authors of Critical perspectives on user involvement, publishing this month.

TPP: How did the book come about?

MB: Work on user involvement and user movements has been a feature of my research for most of my academic career. I felt instinctively drawn to the importance of understanding the experience of using services from the perspective of those on the receiving end and, when I started out on this work was surprised that (at that time) this was a rather radical idea. Now it’s no longer radical, I wondered if this meant that things have changed fundamentally?

TPP: Tell us about the conference you organized to explore these issues:

The conference was held in Brighton in April 2009 and the contributors to this volume spoke. It was designed to enable a dialogue between user activists, academic researchers and practitioners. It highlighted tensions and differences between those different groups who are all in some way interested in and committed to understanding and promoting user perspectives on services; what it means to live with illness, disability or mental health difficulties, and how collective action can contribute to transformation. It also demonstrated the diverse contexts in which dialogue is taking place and the new relationships that are being explored.

TPP: What kind of things did you learn from the conference?

One thing that was particularly striking was the importance of research as a space in which new knowledge and new understandings are being generated. Perhaps this is ultimately less threatening and easier to accommodate than fundamental changes to services?

TPP: Phil, what is your particular interest in this topic?:

PC: The essential focus of user involvement for me has always been about ‘voice,’ about enabling meaningful engagement to occur and about involvement leading to action. I guess this is not ‘rocket science,’ and this focus may well be seen as a simplistic one. However, across all three sections of the book (user movements, user involvement in services and user involvement in research), what ‘voice’ means and what, it any, action this leads to, are examined and critiqued in a variety of settings.

The range of contributors, from the established and well known, to those newer to involvement and writing about it, offer perspectives on specific initiatives and on key concepts and ideas. Settings where involvement is described and analysed include mental health, disability, cancer care, local government, acute health services, social care and a range of research settings such as young people (e.g. young mothers and young people with hearing loss), older people and women’s alcohol use.

TPP: What kinds of conclusions do you reach through the book?

PC: Taken together, the contributions offer complex insights into user involvement. Much critique concerns the opportunities, challenges and tensions for those individuals and groups who become involved, and for groups and organizations where involvement is played out. The historical perspective offered by some contributors reminds us both how much has changed, and how similar are many of the issues faced by users seeking to shape services. Evidence highlights the need for inclusive and diverse ‘bottom up’ involvement. However, negotiating the service user/professional interface remains important if more effective and rewarding involvement opportunities are to be achieved.

TPP: Thanks very much Marian and Phil.

Critical perspectives on user involvement was published on 16 November 2011 and can be ordered here.

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