Summary of evaluation
Evaluation methods included phone interviews, focus groups, some individual face to face interviews, consistent participation in the steering group meeting mainly via videoconferencing by one of the external evaluators (SR), participation in two of the dissemination events, and analysis of anonymous feedback forms of the dissemination events. The external evaluators consulted the steering group about the evaluation methods, key evaluation themes, and phrasing of questions.
The findings highlighted a high level of satisfaction and of met expectations from the research training, as well as from subsequent participation in interviewing and data analysis by those who undertook part in these activities. Participants who left after the initial training were equally satisfied with the training, but left mostly due to being unwell or due to having to take care of family members. A couple of participants left after taking part in interviewing due to being offered paid posts, and commented that the training helped them in becoming more self confident.
Initial tension between service user and carers participants was commented upon by a minority of participants, but seems to have been resolved in the subsequent phase. Difficulties in being paid for the input into the project by the university were commented upon as a distressing problem.
The steering group worked well together, though the number of participants in the monthly meeting dropped half way across the project lifespan. Its members clearly preferred the external evaluators to be physically present in the meetings.
Nearly all of the participants in the dissemination events did fill in the anonymous feedback forms. Their feedback was mostly positive in relation to the content and mode of presentation of the findings. They had little to add in terms of ideas for future dissemination and implementation.
The external evaluation of the project had an unusual aim, in so far as most evaluations go. The mandate was to focus on the processes of the project as outcomes in their own right, and to provide the insight into the processes to the project’s activists – the members of the steering group, who included the service users and carers wanting to become interviewers, representatives of the trust and of related voluntary organisations, and the university researchers.
This primary aim was focused upon because the project activists and the external evaluators too believed that the processes were more central to the project’s outcomes than the defined outcomes themselves. The transformation of service users and carers into researchers, able to interview, analyse the data and turn the conclusions into a roadmap of how to turn care planning into a recovery tool within the project lifetime, was perceived as depending not only on learning new skills, but on taking on a new role and identify, on entering the spirit of research as an open ended inquiry, in which their views and those of other service users and carers counted as much as those of experienced researchers.
The trick was to do all of this more or less within the lifetime of the project, and more importantly to ensure that it is carried out in the way it was intended – i.e. as an emancipatory research project in which the participants have a major say. Or, as put succinctly by one of the university researchers,
“Many of the above implies that the process and outcome can be clearly planned in advance. This within a participatory framework of research is not always possible. However we should still strive, reflect and plan with the issues in mind. The work from the very beginning walked a path between providing too much structure and thus stifling creativity and opportunity and on the other being too open and fluid resulting in not achieving research milestones”.