Formal groups are useful when you need to gather views and influence the shaping and direction of a project, on a long-term or ongoing basis. Read our tips, and check out our resources for hosting formal groups.
Types of formal groups
Service user forums meet regularly and are usually based in a service. They:
- Contribute to making decisions about a service
- Help guide the service provider
- Feed into strategic service user forums that support organisational development
Advisory groups are often used when planning a project or event. They meet regularly and provide staff with advice, based on information that's provided to them.
Things to consider with formal groups
- Is the group diverse? You may need to involve people in other ways. Not everyone will feel this format is relevant to them, or feel confident in a group setting.
- How will you manage the balance of power? It's important everyone in the group feels equal, and the organisation shares power.
- Is there training and support available to help people to participate equally?
- How do different groups of people engage with each other?
- Is it sensible to bring people with different experiences together? For example, are service users and experts by experience likely to be more candid if staff aren’t present? Is it useful for staff or senior leaders to hear discussions?
- How will you make sure group members aren’t excluded or side-lined?
Tools for running formal groups
Creating a group agreement
When asking people to join a one-off focus group or discussion event, a group agreement lets everyone know where they stand. It will also help to create a safe space for openness and honesty. If you’re setting up a regular forum, make sure you have some terms of reference in place to clear expectations.
Chairing and leading meetings
This guide was co-created with people with lived experience to support people to lead or chair meetings. It also has guidance for Mind staff supporting people in these roles. The guide breaks down the different stages of leading a meeting, provides some tools and techniques and gives examples of different scenarios that may arise, and tips on how to handle these.
In this video, Charlotte talks about the advisory panel that advised the Time to Change programme on the direction of their work.
"They come with local knowledge, their own networks, and their own groups of people that maybe can’t best be reached by those stakeholders. The people on the lived experience panel really steered the whole direction of the hubs, and it wouldn’t have been a success if they hadn’t been on board."