These types of activities are useful when you need to gather views and influence the shaping and direction of a particular project on a long-term and/or ongoing basis. Service User forums meet regularly and are usually based within a service, they are able to make decisions regarding the service they use or help guide the organisation that runs it. They can also feed into organisations strategic service user forums that help organisational development. Advisory groups are often used when planning a conference or event, they meet regularly and provide staff with advice based on information provided to them.
Things to consider:
- Do the groups represent diversity? You may need to involve people in other ways as not everyone will feel this format is relevant to them or are confident in a group setting.
- How will you manage the balance of power? It's important everyone in the group is equal and that 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 or practical to have all parties together? For example, are service users and experts through experience likely to be more candid if staff aren’t there, however at times it is also useful for staff/senoir leaders to be present to hear discussions.
- How will you make sure group members aren’t excluded or side-lined?
If you’re asking people to join a one-off focus group or discussion event, a group agreement lets everyone know where they stand and helps 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 so that expectations are clear.