Engaging service users in evaluation

Vicki Hollis advises practitioners on the best ways to involve children and families in evaluating services

Boy and girl smiling We need to know whether our services help keep children safe, recover from abuse and adversity and improve relationships and well-being. Carrying out evaluations of our services is a key part of this. However, doing evaluations can be difficult, especially when practitioners take on evaluation responsibilities alongside providing help to children and families.

Often practitioners have to juggle the demands of the evaluation with doing assessments and therapeutic work. Many practitioners will not have had training or experience in evaluation or research methods. A particular challenge is how practitioners can engage service users in the whole evaluation process - this is a crucial factor determining how successful the evaluation will be.

The practitioners who deliver our services have gained a huge amount of experience from helping to evaluate more than 25 of our services for children and families. This is what we’ve learnt about how to make evaluation work in practice and keep service users engaged from start to finish.


1. Put evaluation on the agenda from the very beginning

Give each service user an overview of the evaluation in your initial meetings so that it is not sprung upon them later on. Provide leaflets about the evaluation process alongside service information leaflets to be read in their own time and discussed at their next session.

2. Allow enough time for discussion

It’s vital service users have a clear understanding about what will be involved in the evaluation and the importance of completing any follow-up questionnaires. So make sure you have factored in enough time to discuss the evaluation with them.

3. Use simple language and be enthusiastic when explaining the evaluation

Describe how evaluation can give service users a voice: empowering them to have their say and to shape future service delivery. If you don’t feel you understand the evaluation well enough to explain it and answer service users’ questions, then speak to the lead evaluators or your line manager and ask them to clarify things for you.

4. Be clear about confidentiality and consent 

Service users should understand how their data will be protected and know about any safeguarding or confidentiality agreements or limits. Make it clear that it is up to them if they want to take part in the evaluation and that participation will not influence their access to the service.

5. Give plenty of reassurance to service users 

Let service users know they can:

  • ask for help if they don’t understand any of the questions
  • they’re being asked leave out any questions they don’t want to answer
  • work through questionnaires at their own pace.

6. If service users are unsure, ask if they would be willing to give it a go

Service users might feel worried about taking part in the evaluation because it isn’t something they’ve done before. Make sure they know they can always change their mind about taking part or completing a questionnaire if they feel they don’t want to continue.

7. Recognise your own views and influence on the service user

Practitioners who feel unsure about the evaluation or dislike a particular way of measuring impact can project these feelings onto the service user, influencing their ability or willingness to take part. It is important that everyone has the chance to participate and feels able to say yes or no. In our experience, service users are often willing to complete sensitive questionnaires that practitioners may initially be resistant to handing out and will say no if they don’t want to do them. 

8. Keep follow-up measures on the agenda 

Follow-up questions are crucial to understanding the longer-term impact of the service. Remind service users about longer-term follow-ups when you give them summary reports and closure letters and send out ‘keep in touch’ cards to facilitate future contact.

9. Explore options to make long-term follow-ups more practical

Think about the best ways to get follow-up data. Could you arrange a reunion coffee or play morning for those who participated in group work and complete follow-up measures during this time? Or, is it better for follow-up work to be done by another person (such as a school teacher or learning mentor)? Is the service centre the best place to carry out follow-up questionnaires or would somewhere else be better (in school, for example)?

10. Learn from colleagues about what does and doesn’t work

Ask other practitioners who have had success with carrying out evaluations to share a script of the things they say to service users or to film themselves having conversations about evaluations. Where possible, involve practitioners in training about evaluation so that ‘real-world’ examples can be given and practical questions can be answered.

Final thoughts 

Practitioners play a key role both in engaging children and families in evaluation and collecting evaluation data throughout the duration of a service. Based on our experience at the NSPCC, these 10 steps can help practitioners to keep service users engaged in the evaluation process.

Doing this helps to make the evaluation successful and contributes valuable learning about what works to help keep children safe and support them in getting back on track after abuse.

Get more information about how we evaluate our services.

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