User panels

User panels

A user panel is a representative group of service users, carers and communities which uses the lived experience of group members to help influence and improve services.

Panels succeed through regular two-way communication and feedback between service providers and panel members. There are no limits on the number of people on a panel, other than the practicalities of the organiser's circumstances. Panels comprising several hundred people are common. Every effort should be made to recruit people or groups who are marginalised or not usually listened to.

  • Time to do: meetings normally last 1 to 2 hours
  • Staff: organiser and note taker; staff members need to organise the meetings and distribute information in appropriate formats and time
  • Cost: £ to ££
  • Equipment: technology may be needed if conducting virtual meetings
  • small groups
  • large groups
  • face-to-face
  • at a distance

How to do it

  • Recruit members to the panel who have recent lived experience of the topic. This can be through services and groups they access such as patient participation groups, hospital groups, community and carer groups, and through advertising locally.
  • Membership of longer term panels should be refreshed regularly to ensure that feedback is fresh and relevant - typically one-third replaced every year. Alternatively, panels can last only for a short time, or sub-groups can be formed from the larger group membership if needed for particular pieces of engagement.
  • The user panel can meet face-to-face or form a virtual panel where communication is through email, social media or other means.
  • Members in rural areas or those who are unable to attend meetings in person may be given the opportunity to take part through teleconferencing, video-conferencing, Skype or similar technology, where available
  • Consider the needs of panel members when deciding what time of day to meet and how meetings are conducted.
  • It is important to clearly communicate the aims of the group to members, and to give regular feedback about how members' feedback has been used.

Advantages

  • Gaining feedback from people who have lived experience of the topic
  • User panels can provide early feedback and highlight gaps or concerns
  • If done well, provides two-way communication and promotes partnership working
  • Can be a quick and inexpensive way to gather feedback and complements other methods of engagement

Challenges

  • To promote diversity and reflect the experience of the population, a wide range of people needs to be recruited.
  • As the panel is recruited from service users, this leaves out the people who are yet to access the service
  • Panel members can have health conditions that limit how regularly they can actively engage. Organisers need to be flexible in their approach and provide different ways to contribute to the panel, such as through email and social media.
  • User panels should not be seen as the only engagement method to use. Other methods should be used alongside.
Last Updated: 16 March 2020
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