Stuart Plant's Blog 'Unique Power of Service User Involvement'

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27 November 2017

Our Service User Experience Manager Stuart Plant talks about the 'Unique Power of Service User Involvement'

As we come to the end of another round of our service user mystery shopping (more of about that later) I am reminded that four years ago I was asked to review the approach Phoenix took to Service User Involvement.


I took some time to review the principles of involvement, looking at the origins of citizen’s participation, coproduction and different approaches to user-focused systems. I also reflected on the contribution of the Therapeutic Community movement of which Phoenix has played a key role over the last 50 years. Whilst it was evident that we innately reflected the principles and understanding of involvement within our services, I wanted to understand how we define the processes, structures and culture of involvement so that we can measure the impact and improve effectiveness.  We now have a clearly defined involvement structure that enables better decision making through a network of local service user reps, supported by a central council and with representation at all levels of the organisation including board level. We can audit those processes and identify best practice and areas of development.


Which brings me to just one of the many processes we have developed over the last few years. Every two months our Council Members undertake a mystery shopping exercise. The purpose of the mystery shopper process is to gain an understanding of the quality of information and help offered to potential new clients, family members and referrers. This process allows us to identify and celebrate best practice around this vital first point of contact. This first conversation could be the encouragement for someone to take a first step into a service and towards recovery.


The process is conducted by the Service User Council Member Volunteers of Phoenix Futures and Foundation66 and overseen by myself.  We follow strict guidelines when conducting the mystery shopper to ensure fairness and consistency.  The Council Members are given information before they start about the service they are contacting, all this information is taken from the Phoenix Futures website as this way we know it’s the same level of information to which the general public have access.   The Council Members contact our services with a set list of benchmark questions that they are looking to get answers to, these questions have been developed through consultation and co-production with current and ex-clients.


We assess and report on how those vital first contacts with services are handled, identifying what the call handler does and how they do it, however most importantly we focus on what that interactions feels like to the caller. This is the difference between an interaction that is efficiently managed and one that is therapeutic and encouraging. It’s relatively easy to define an efficient process, but it’s only when we know how that process feels to the caller that we can define a genuinely therapeutic interaction, and there is no other way to replicate our service user council’s unique insight into the thoughts and feelings that such an important communication can create. They have been there themselves and know what it feels like to pick up the phone and make that life-changing call.


The mystery shopper activity is just one example of the unique power of involvement to enable the organisation to develop ever more therapeutic communications.

Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).