OBJECTIVE: To develop and evaluate service user, carer and community involvement in health and social care education. BACKGROUND: Despite the high policy profile of involvement issues, there appear to be no published accounts of schemes that have used a systematic whole-faculty approach to community engagement in health and social care higher education. FOCUS OF THIS PAPER: The set up and early development of a faculty-wide community engagement project. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Staff from the faculty of health in one University, local service users and carers and community group project workers and local National Health Service (NHS) and public sector staff. DESIGN: Participatory action research including document review, field notes, questionnaires and interviews. ANALYSIS: Thematic analysis. The emerging themes were tested by seeking disconfirming data, and through verification with stake-holders. RESULTS: Prior to the study, there were examples of community engagement in the participating faculty, but they occurred in specific departments, and scored low on the 'ladder of involvement'. Some previous attempts at engagement were perceived to have failed, resulting in resistance from staff and the community. Despite this, an advisory group was successfully formed, and project framing and development evolved with all stake-holders over the subsequent year. The four themes identified in this phase were: building accessibility; being 'proper' service users/carers;moving from suspicion to trust: mutually respectful partnerships as a basis for sustainable change; and responses to challenge and emergence. CONCLUSIONS: Successful and sustainable engagement requires authenticity. Many problems and solutions arising from authentic engagement are emergent, and potentially challenging to organizations.
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