Crowd-Sourcing Service User Funding for Participation in Essay

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Crowd-Sourcing Service User Funding for Participation in Educational Conferences

Reporting on the Joint World Social Work conference held in Melbourne, Australia, Peter Beresford wrote, "There are fears that policymakers have lost interest in ensuring the users of care services have their voices heard" (2014). Social workers established the involvement of service users and carers as a key priority in social service, pioneering efforts to forward user involvement on an international level (Beresford, 2014). As a profession, social work has led service user and carer engagement in education, policy, practice, and research (Beresford, 2014). The long-term impact goal of these efforts has been to equalize relationships between service providers and service users as a means to tapping into their experiential knowledge for the purposes of fostering authentic co-production and improving service provision (Beresford, 2014).

That interest in these goals seems to waning or neglected was manifested by the attendance at the Joint World Social Work conference in 2014, which is a key global event for the social work profession (Beresford, 2014). Academics were well represented at the conference, but very few service users and currently practicing face-to-face service providers were in attendance (Beresford, 2014). This pattern also held true at the global conference event held in Stockholm, Sweden, the year before (Beresford, 2014).

The Swedish organization, PowerUs, holds gap mending as a primary initiative.

Gap mending is the name for inclusionary approaches that bring about more equal practice by including service users and making provision for their participation. Mutual learning situations foster gap mending, and PowerUs has developed a model in which social work students and students who come from service user organizations study together. Membership in the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) consists of social work practitioners, academics, students, and social welfare service users who are united in their concerns about social justice and the undermining of social work activity by marketization and managerialism, and the resultant stigmatization of service users. Shaping Our Lives is a user-controlled UK organization for people with disabilities that has published a report, Beyond the Usual Suspects, that is directed towards all people who wish to be more involved in -- and have a say over -- their lives and the services they depend on and use to live their lives.

The policy and practice problem is that service user representation in social service national and international conferences does not align with the professed visions and rhetoric about increased, effective, and real involvement of service users. Often, when service users do manage to find a slot in conferences, either as presenters or members of panels, they have done so on their on recognizance, if you will, and funded their own way.

The project would help to fund participation in service related national conferences by service users as representatives of their population group. The purpose is to ensure authentic and meaningful representation, giving a voice to service users, which is integral to the conference mission and process. The coordinator in the workplace and an assistant videographer would facilitate the process of obtaining funds to support the participation of the service users by utilizing an online kick-starter and crowd-sourcing web-based platforms.

The purpose is both to obtain the funds for representation of service users and also to legitimize service user participation by ensuring the conference sponsor or host organizations pursue funding, rather than putting it on the shoulders of service users, who are generally economically constrained. The project will be organized under IRS 501 (c) (3) non-profit status in order to receive in-kind contributions and funding from public and private sources.

Aims and Objectives

The project is intended to serve as both a pilot and as a demonstration model for facilitating the participation of service users in the educational conferences and outreach of organizations and member associations in the disability service area, and eventually in other types of service areas. The focus of the demonstration project is disability service since that is the area in which the proposed project coordinator works.

Theory of Change

The theory of change process serves as an expectation management tool for implementation and as guide to establishing indicators for evaluation (Harris, 2015). The project will employ both the theory of change process and a logic model framework (Harris, 2015). This section describes how the theory of change process is used to determine the strategic direction of the project within the external community context where outcomes and impact must occur. Details about the articulation of between the theory of change process and the logic model are provided below in the section on Monitoring and Evaluation.

A theory of change (TOC) is used to guide comprehensive critical thinking about the early-term and intermediate-term changes that are needed in order to achieve long-term goals (Anderson, 2005; Harris, 2015). The TOC process enables stakeholders to examine the assumptions about the expected and desirable change processes in order to establish the most effective planning for program implementation and program evaluation (Anderson, 2005; Harris, 2015). A key strength of the TOC process is that it provides opportunity for clear-eyed assessment of the dynamics of influence and impact. That is to say that stakeholders identify factors they are able to realistically influence and what impact they are likely to have given the constraints they face (Anderson, 2005; Harris, 2015). Through the TOC process, stakeholders can identify resource availability, needed resources, and establish a feasible timeline for reaching their goals (Anderson, 2005; Harris, 2015).

A backward mapping process similar to that used in the evaluation of policy implementation serves to clarify the preconditions, interventions, and indicators needed for the TOC process development (Harris, 2015). The TOC process begins with the identification of a long-term goal, and then identifies the preconditions that must be established in order to accomplish that goal. The goal of the project is to increase the participation of service users in the educational conference processes by providing funding for travel and attendance expenses of the service user candidates. The next step in the TOC process is the identification of interventions (or activities, in the language of logic models) that must be carried out to establish the necessary preconditions. The primary project intervention is the use of kick-starter and crowd-sourcing web-based platforms to obtain funding for travel and conference expenses for the service users. The indicators of the precondition for the service user participant funding include practical matters such as the amount of funding obtaining, availability and selection of service user candidates for participation according to inclusion criteria, and receptivity by the conference sponsors and hosts to the inclusion of service users in the proceedings.

Time-frame and Scale

The project is geared toward service user representation in four international conferences over the course of one fiscal year. The project is designed to support the representation of at least two service users at each conference. Because the actual project takes place in cyberspace, utilizing kick-starter and crowd-sourcing website platforms, the concept of geographic area does not truly apply. The outcomes of the project will be realized at the conferences in which service user representation is procured, which means that one could ostensibly apply the idea of the geographic reach of to the cities in which the conferences are held, but that would be beside the point. Indeed, an adjunct outcome of the project is to provide normalized opportunity to the individual service users, which essentially means that the benefits follow the individuals, rather than having the benefits circumscribed by unrelated geographic parameters.

Resources Required

The project requires two staff members who are able to devote .15FTE (full-time equivalent) to the effort. The responsibilities of one staff member is function as the project coordinator, communicating with conference organizers and sponsors about opportunities for participation by the service users, serving as face of the project in the promotional activities, and working with the advisory board of directors to build community networks, awareness, and support. The project coordinator will approach the employer to determine if the required FTE will be provided within the current salary and wages structure, or if the FTE will need to be compensated by external funding and accommodated by a corresponding adjustment of the FTE. The responsibilities of the second staff member are predominantly those of a videographer, engaging in script writing for the kick-starter and crowd-sourcing videos, and to support all aspects of the video production for fundraising and awareness.

The project operations will be conducted in facility space and with equipment that has been offered as in-kind contributions. The project coordinator, in conjunction with members of the advisory board, will identify potential sources of facility space and equipment in the workplace employing the project coordinator.

Funding / Costs

The overall project is expected to cost £44,000 in the pilot year. The basis for this figure was calculated in this way:

Estimated cost per conference (inclusive of travel, lodging, meals, and conference registration) = £5,000

Two service user participation candidates for each event = £10,000

Participation in four conferences = £40,000

Kickstarter fees @ 5% of funding…[continue]

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