Service user, carer and public involvement policy

This policy is intended to set out expectations and offer guidance to staff in the Directorate of Adult Care and Health Services (DACHS) to help them plan ways of involving people who use services, carers and the public in driving up quality and choice.

The policy sets out aspirations to help steer us towards a culture of co-design and co-production. In that spirit, the details of how we achieve our aims will be kept under review and developed with the people who use our services, not in isolation.

This policy is made available as a public document to invite comments from partners – most importantly, the service users, carers and members of the public we want to work with more closely in future.

Making a step change

Historically, we have involved people who use our services mostly through informing, inviting comment and formal consultation processes.

The various services we offer have a different ethos now, though. As our approach becomes more grounded in principles of empowering people to make healthier choices and live more independent lives, so we need to live these values in how we plan, design, deliver and evaluate services.

This means a power shift so that we work in partnership with service users, carers and the public from the outset and throughout.

We believe that developing a more collaborative relationship with service users, carers and members of the public will:

  • give us a deeper understanding of how health and care services can improve people’s lives
  • help to ensure our work responds to the issues which people feel are most important
  • model the values that we encourage in our services

Where we want to be

Our aim is to increase involvement in ways which are meaningful, beneficial and fulfilling.

This will mean that more people:

  • want to be involved in improving services;
  • know how to get involved, from giving individual feedback to joining a project group or ongoing forum;
  • feel the range of ways of getting involved includes everyone;
  • feel supported in getting involved;
  • understand how their involvement makes a difference;
  • feel their involvement is valued; and
  • feel their involvement is real and meaningful

and, as a result, more people from a more diverse range of backgrounds are involved, and services are better.

How we will get there

  • Our approach to involvement will be built on valuing diversity and welcoming people who identify with different protected groups. This will require us to reach out to different communities to ensure that our approach supports the development of services that are fair, inclusive, meet local needs and work to address inequalities.
  • We will promote ways of getting involved widely, through different channels and community partners whilst recognising that some of our residents are not currently part of formal structures.
  • Everybody’s time and energy has a value, and we will be respectful of this.
  • We will provide service users, carers and members of the public with training and support to help them take part in different involvement activities. This could include training, pre-meetings or support to canvass wider views if someone is asked to represent a wider group of residents.
  • Where involvement takes the form of committing to a specific task or set of meetings, it becomes a form of volunteering, and the DACHS Involvement Policy aligns with the principles of the Council’s broader Corporate Volunteering Policy – See Appendix A
  • The Information and Engagement Officer in the Public Health and Wellbeing Team will manage an ‘Involvement Bank’ [to be evolved from the Adult Social Care User Forum] containing contact details of people with interests in different service areas, and also maintain links with a range of external community and involvement forums. She can support staff to reach service users, carers and members of the public who can provide the insight needed for particular pieces of work and continue to develop these links.
  • We will establish a clear guide and process to help staff understand when and how the Directorate will reimburse people for expenses incurred through taking part in involvement activity and/or offer a token thanks for their time, based on the principles of the Corporate Volunteering Policy – see sections 2 and 6 of Appendix A
  • We will maintain an accessible bank of service user, carer and public feedback, including published local research and evidence as part of the Reading Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, so that we can share insights across the Directorate and with partners, and build on previous involvement as we go forward.
  • Where we expect our involvement activity to include a formal consultation, we will work with corporate colleagues (from Policy, Communications and Web) to plan and deliver this in accordance with corporate consultation policy. Our approach to involvement will be built on valuing diversity and welcoming people who identify with different protected groups. This will require us to reach out to different communities to ensure that our approach supports the development of services that are fair, inclusive, meet local needs and work to address inequalities.

Types of involvement

At the start of considering a new service, policy or approach, and at key decision points, we need to check that we are hearing and responding to the voices of those who are intended to benefit. There are many ways of doing this, and it is important to be clear at the outset what involvement is intended to achieve in different situations. This helps to determine who to involve and how.

In all of our involvement activity, we will be clear and honest with people about what they can influence. Sometimes the Directorate may have to work within constraints which we can’t change, but involvement may still be a valuable way of identifying the best way to implement changes that are driven by outside factors.


Complaints and compliments

Reviewing information from people who have contacted the Directorate about their individual experiences can identify themes or highlight issues at the extremes.

Public questions and petitions to council committees

Council committees have the facility to receive questions and petitions from the public. These may flag up concerns for further consideration.

Structured interviews

One to one discussions can generate really rich information about people’s experience. Where there are concerns about too few people from certain groups accessing services, for example, this can be a good way of exploring issues with the few people who can share experience from a particular perspective. However, this is a time consuming and potentially expensive way of gathering intelligence. This method may generate ideas to explore further, but as the information comes from a small number of people it could be unrepresentative and may need to be checked via other methods.

Focus groups

Bringing a small group of people together for a facilitated discussion can be a good forum for teasing out complex or sensitive issues. People bounce ideas off one another, which can be quite creative. However, more confident members of the group may influence others’ opinions. It may be helpful to test out ideas generated across a larger sample of people later to check how representative the views are.


This can be a cost-effective way of gathering information from a large number of people and offer individuals a great deal of flexibility about when to submit their feedback. Responses to closed questions can be analysed quite easily, often though automated processes, but within a pre-determined range. Open questions generate richer feedback, but the responses may be time-consuming to analyse.

Staff interview panels

Involving people who have used services in staff interviews can widen the perspective of the recruiting panel, and can be a particularly effective way of testing out candidates’ ability to explain their approach to a lay person.

Tender submissions/bids for funding

Involving service users, carers and members of the public in designing commissioning processes can be an effective way of ensuring these processes test out the issues which matter most to people who use services. This could mean adding in particular questions, or including a part of the process which is scored by lay people.

Service user/carer/public forums

The Directorate supports a range of forums and partnerships that include members of the public from different backgrounds and with different abilities. These offer people a channel to set the agenda for discussion across a peer group, and can generate valuable insights. Standing forums and partnerships are often used to promote or generate responses to formal consultations, alongside other methods.

Groups which include and are designed by people who use services from the outset are more accessible to service users, carers and members of the public than groups which try to add in this additional perspective later.

Public meetings/listening events

Services may set up specific events to bring people together to offer views on different topics. Where these are part of formal consultations, they tend to operate within clear parameters to ensure the outputs address consultation aims. Other meetings may be more exploratory with more scope for service users, carers and members of the public to steer the discussion.

It can be difficult to attract people to bespoke involvement events, but they do offer involvement opportunities to people not affiliated to any standing forum.

Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping involves people testing out service responses to a set of pre-arranged mock scenarios or queries. People who have used services can be very effective mystery shoppers and help to plan out credible but testing surveys as well as conducting them.

User testing

Having service users, carers or members of the public try out information resources can generate valuable feedback from a lay perspective on accessibility and navigability. The approach can be used for different formats.


A consultation is a formal process to gather stakeholder feedback on proposed changes to services or policies. They may be a statutory requirement to consult prior to making changes in some situations. Consultations can include several methods running in parallel.

By themselves, consultations are not very strong methods of involving people. This is because a series of consultation questions are set, and people can only respond to those questions (perhaps with more scope to add in additional considerations through an ‘other comments’ question at the end). However, pre- consultation involvement can take various forms and be used to shape the formal process.

Consultations need to run for a ‘reasonable’ period of time, and this is tied to what prior involvement has taken place.

Service user, carer or lay representatives

Service users, carers or members of the public may be invited to sit on steering or project groups alongside people who bring other expertise, and represent a lay perspective. These groups are different from the forums or partnerships where lay people are in the majority.

It is important to be really clear about the role of the lay representatives on a group like this. Generally, they will be expected to be a ‘critical friend’ but may need support or training to get past jargon and engage with people who have established relationships and boundaries. If a lay representative is expected to represent a wider view than their own, they will need links into other forums or support to canvass wider views. Once trained and experienced, the lay representative’s perspective may become somewhat ‘professionalised’ so it may be necessary to time limit roles like this.

Participatory Action Research

Organisations can work with residents to improve understanding of issues collaboratively. This involves side- by-side enquiry and experimentation grounded in lived experience and social context.


Where people who may use services, family members, carers, organisations and commissioners work together in an equal way, sharing influence, skills and experience to design, deliver and monitor services and projects, then services can be said to be co-produced. Real co- production means that people are truly involved in planning and designing services from the very beginning.

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are variants of the examples given. DACHS expects its staff to consider how best to involve people in improving services on a case by case basis.

Code of conduct

When conducting service user / carer /public involvement activities on behalf of the Directorate, Council offers are expected to ensure that attendees and participants have equal opportunities to engage in the discussion. It is advisable to establish ‘grounds rules’ at the outset so that everyone understands what conduct is expected and what behaviours will be challenged.

A Code of Conduct for forums managed by DACHS is set out at below. Officers who manage standing user /carer /public involvement forums are expected to ensure that this Code is formally adopted into the Terms of Reference for relevant groups. The principles set out in the Code will need to be communicated to people attending ad hoc involvement events. There may need to be some negotiation with partner agencies about adopting the principles at events hosted by other organisations.

Code of conduct for DACHS events and forums

We invite people to come along and give honest and frank views. Sometimes feelings can run high, but we want people to be able to participate fully and allow others to have a voice and not feel intimated.

Attendees and participants at involvement forums and events are expected to:

  • Treat others with respect
    • Respect equality and diversity values by not discriminating against people on grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age
    • Not bully any person
    • Not use abusive, vexatious or malicious language
    • Not make unreasonable demands


  • People can give notice of what support they need to attend and participate at events and public forums
  • The Council will respond within the timescales in line with its customer services standards

Any attendees who do not conform to these values will be asked to leave the event.

Appendix A – Corporate Volunteering Policy

Date published: 6th March 2014 – Approved by Personnel Committee

1. Introduction

1.1 Volunteers are an integral part of the planning and delivery of Reading Borough Council’s services.

1.2 The Council’s Working better with you principles are to engage residents in shaping decisions and determining services; to be a more integrated and adaptable organisation; to have stronger partnerships with others to deliver services; to be more locally focused on neighbourhoods and responsive at a local level and to use the most appropriate delivery methods chosen according to residents’ views and needs and budget available.

1.3 Volunteers do not replace or duplicate paid employees they are a valued resource, offering skills, experience and perspectives that complement staff and the Council’s diverse provisions.

1.4 This document outlines the relationship, expectations and policies between a volunteer and Reading Borough Council. Any referenced documents are available through the Council.

1.5 This policy is periodically updated. The current version is publicly displayed on the Reading Borough Council’s website. The latest version of this document supersedes any previous version.

2. Definition

2.1 A Reading Borough Council “volunteer” is someone who freely contributes time and skills without expectation of financial reward.

3. Selection

3.1 Reading Borough Council accepts volunteer registration from all areas of the community, celebrating the wealth and breadth of skills and knowledge different backgrounds can bring to the organisation and community.

3.2 Selection procedures for individual volunteers aim to protect the integrity of Reading Borough Council and its duty of care to volunteers, staff and clients.

3.3 All volunteers must complete a registration form that may include some medical screening, and attendance at an informal interview. This is to ensure a match between a volunteer’s skills, experience, goals and availability for a role.

3.4 Volunteers may be asked to provide references.

3.5 Volunteers in a position of supervision over young people or adults at risk, must undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

3.6 Awaiting the result on this check is not necessarily a barrier to volunteering.

3.7 Some volunteer position will involve a trial period

3.8 On rare occasion, volunteers may be required to complete a full health questionnaire.

4. Commitment

4.1 The volunteer role is based on mutual trust and understanding, which is outlined in this policy and their volunteering agreement.

4.1.1 This is not an enforceable obligation, contractual or otherwise.

4.1.2 This can be reviewed (by volunteer or organisation) at any time.

4.2 Every volunteer is responsible for upholding the principles and policies of Reading Borough Council and their eventual role to the highest standard.

4.3 Every accepted and assigned volunteer will receive a named supervisor.

4.3.1 Supervisors are a volunteer’s first point of contact in all instances.

4.3.2 Supervisors and volunteers will complete a recorded review periodically (this can be an informal ‘catchup’), at a maximum interval of two months.

4.4 Both volunteers and supervisors are expected to be open in communications, informing each other in reasonable time if any arrangement or personal information needs to be changed.

5. Training

5.1 Volunteers will receive an induction during the first month of their assignment that includes the relevant current compulsory knowledge for a volunteer to complete their role, including: equality and inclusion, safeguarding, data protection and health and safety.

5.1.1 The induction may contain other internal or external compulsory modules (specified in the role description).

5.2 Optional and compulsory training will become available periodically.

5.2.1 Compulsory means required by legislation/policy for the role.

6. Expenses

Please note the latest guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) regarding the payment of expenses for volunteers who are in receipt of benefits.

6.1 Reading Borough Council does not reimburse volunteer expenses as a rule. Some out‐of‐pocket expenses may be reimbursed, but this is agreed by the volunteer and supervisor on a case by case basis and prior to the expense being incurred. Whilst taking part in the agreed task, all necessary resources will be provided by Reading Borough Council.

6.2 Exception: Financial constraints are not a barrier to volunteering. Reading Borough Council will cover travelling expenses within the Council boundary for full‐time students and those claiming unemployment benefits.

7. Equality and inclusion

7.1 Reading Borough Council’s Equality and Diversity policy defines that no person will be discriminated against.

7.2 Volunteer inclusion is on merit, with selection and continuation based upon skills, knowledge, personality and experience.

7.3 A lower age limit on some volunteering roles prevents exposing young people to unnecessary risk and inappropriate levels of responsibility.

7.4 Volunteering should not affect the right to benefits. It is the volunteer’s responsibility to confirm this and inform Jobcentre Plus.

7.5 Volunteers from outside the European Union must confirm their visa permits volunteering in Britain with the UK Border Agency.

7.6 Reading Borough Council’s Harassment Policy defines the Council’s commitment to eliminating harassment and that it will not tolerate any form of it

8. Safeguarding

8.1 Reading Borough Council’s Safeguarding Policy protects the welfare of young people and vulnerable adults: including staff, volunteers and service users.

9. Health and safety

9.1 Reading Borough Council Health and Safety policy outlines the duty of care to avoid exposing volunteers to unnecessary risks and educating of relevant safety to the role.

9.2 Volunteer roles are risk assessed.

9.3 Volunteers are required to provide an up‐to‐date emergency contact.

10. Insurance

10.1 Volunteers are covered by Reading Borough Council’s insurance policy when undertaking voluntary work approved and authorised by the Council.

10.2 Personal possessions are the responsibility of the individual owner.

11. Issues

11.1 All issues with a volunteer’s role, environment or involvement should first be directed to a volunteer’s supervisor, who will follow procedures to resolve the concern.

11.1.1 Supervisors may signpost to their line manager

11.1.2 Volunteers may contact their supervisor’s line manager directly.

12. Data protection, boundaries and confidentiality

12.1 Reading Borough Council’s Data Protection Policy complies with the Data Protection Act 1998. All volunteer records are held securely throughout the volunteer’s assignment and for a reasonable time afterwards. The sharing of Council data is not permitted unless permission has been given to do so.

12.1.1 Data is used only for the reasons for which it was collected, shared only with those who need it, and not shared with third parties ‐ unless permission is given to do so.

12.2 Clear boundaries are important for staff, volunteers and service users.

12.2.1 Especially if there is existing out of role personal interaction.

12.2.2 Giving or receiving gifts is usually a breach of boundary in line with Council policy.

12.3 Volunteers will donate any original copyright works they produce while volunteering to Reading Borough Council – and may be asked to sign a copyright agreement for important projects.

Last updated on 01/03/2022