Service User Involvement (SUI)

Within social work and social care ‘service users’, also known as ‘experts by experience’, have traditionally been identified as people who are (or have in the past) accessed social care or social work services or care for someone accessing such services.  We advocate a broader, more inclusive, and active definition to also include those who choose not to use the services that are currently available to them. This acknowledges that a ‘service user’ should always be self-identifying and seen as a person first and foremost. We are committed to working with members of the public with lived experience of social care or social work, to ensure that our research is developed and shaped in collaboration with the people and communities that we serve.

Service User Involvement (SUI) in social care and social work is similar to Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) in health care which tends to group involvement around specific health conditions. However, the term ‘patient’ does not have resonance in social care where the focus is more around activities of daily living, maintaining independence and enabling the individual to play a full part in society. The underlying principles for both promote active, equal partnerships between people who use health and social care services, carers, families as well as people from organisations that represent people who use services.

Listening to and respecting service user voices and perspectives is increasingly known to be an essential part of developing quality evidence based social care services that reflect the needs and challenges of the diverse populations they service.


The SCRiPT study is testing the feasibility of a Communities of Practice model to increase research capacity in adult social care.  We are creating four Social Care Research in Practice Teams (RiPTs) and evaluating if this model can help develop research learning and promote research that reflects the priorities and challenges of local populations.  The SCRiPT study positions Service User Involvement [SUI] as a fundamental component within this model. There has been initial input from the University of Hertfordshire Public Involvement in Research.

Shaping Our Lives Involvement

Shaping Our Lives1  are one of our co-applicants. Shaping Our Lives and the SCRiPT team were successful in securing additional funding to enhance service user involvement in the study. With the additional funding, Shaping Our Lives will focus on enhancing and supporting the engagement of people from diverse and minoritized communities who use social care services and who are often under-represented or not heard in adult social care research, policy and service planning.

As part of this work, a Public Involvement in Social Care Research (PI-SoCR) group has been developed. The group will provide input into social care research projects from researchers across the East of England using their personal experience of social care services. 

Shaping Our Lives are also supporting with recruiting Experts by Experience to each of the RiPT’s and other service user involvement activities specific to each RiPT.

The table below illustrates SUI as being embedded through all work packages within this research.


WP 1 – Development of RiPT teams

  • Involvement in developing RiPT specifications and advertising materials
  • Involvement in recruitment process

WP 2 – Development and delivery of training for RiPT teams

  • Delivering training on SUI
  • Support mapping and linkage with local and national SU organisations within shared areas of interest for each RiPT

WP 3 – RiPT research project delivery and dissemination 

  • Design and conduct of each RiPT research project via involvement in one of the RiPTs or via being a member of each RiPT advisory group
  • Enhancing dissemination impact through accessibility of outcomes and broadening reach through own networks

WP 4 – Evaluation of feasibility of RiPT Model

  • Evaluate the extent to which SUs were involved in developing WP3
  • Understand how Communities of Practice model has worked from a community / SU perspective
We recognise that meaningful engagement is resource intensive and funding for this is integral.   All service user participation time, including preparation time and training will be funded in line with University of Hertfordshire and NIHR guidelines

Partnership working with Shaping our Lives

Shaping our Lives are co-applicants and have a successful history of working with the University of Hertfordshire. Shaping our Lives has decades of experience in research and inclusive involvement. They are able to draw on the knowledge and expertise of their national network of service users and user-led organisations. They have expert knowledge about the current issues and barriers faced by people who experience inequalities. Shaping Our Lives provides tools and services for:

  • People who want to have a say in their health and social care services
  • Organisations that want to involve people

Shaping our Lives will provide a bridge between the RiPTs, ensuring research that is inclusive and relevant for local users of social care services and develop materials to support engagement.


Becki Meakin

Involvement Manager
Shaping Our Lives

Shaping Our Lives is a user-led organisation specialising in the inclusive involvement of diverse and marginalised communities. Becki’s role is to develop and refine service user involvement throughout the project, ensuring the voices of service users are included.

Sean Bolton

Service user, and member of Creating Links Expert by Experience Group

I am lay advisory group member for SCRiPT.  I am a person who has disability and uses Health and Social Care Services. I volunteer in the local community with several local charities, as a trustee and running services which, I have been doing so for over 20 years. I also have a background in working with universities, supporting Health and Social Care courses since 2004 and involved with the University of Hertfordshire since 2017. I also am member of the Hertfordshire Teaching Partnership committee.   I am involved with Age UK Dacorum.

Louise Cobb

Service User and Carer Co-ordinator and Visiting Lecturer

University of Hertfordshire

I have been a Senior Child Protection Social Worker for 16 years.  Now are a service user and carer co-ordinator for Nursing at the University of Hertfordshire, leading on service user/carer inclusion for curriculum design, planning and delivery.  I am also a visiting lecturer in adult, child, learning disability, mental health and community nursing having been a service user in each of these five fields.

Marion Cowe

Member of Public Involvement in Research Group (PiRG)

University of Hertfordshire, School of Health and Social Work

Very happy to be associated with the project and have a keen interest in the subject. Have been involved as a member of the Public Involvement in Research group (PIRg) since its formation in 2005 and have been involved as such in a wide variety of projects in the field of a public involvement. My background is in social work, education and training.

There are opportunities to be involved in the SCRiPT project through supporting the Research in Practice Teams

Ways in which service users or carers could be involved:

(noting that this could be members of the public or their carers who are or who have in the past accessed social care or social work services as well as those who may be eligible to receive social care or social work services)

  • Reviewing research proposals and ethical approvals including participant information sheets
  • Helping to develop topic guides/questions/research tools
  • Representing the contribution of views from lived experience on research project management groups
  • Acting as a co-researcher (where appropriate) – this may include assisting in recruitment, helping to gain consent, chairing focus groups, undertaking data analysis, ensuring vulnerable participants are supported
  • Sharing experiences with researchers
  • Assisting and commenting on poster design and abstracts
  • Helping to present research findings at conferences
  • Making recommendations for dissemination of research results
  • Providing the lay perspective on a number of post graduate courses including and the Doctorate in Health Research