Updates & News

Initial Evaluation of Mend the Gap Projects

by Albert Moylan, Senior Lecturer, Birmingham City University

Mend the Gap breaks down barriers, results in deep learning and has the potential to drive and deliver positive change.

I am pleased to provide an update and initial, brief, overview evaluation of five Mend the Gap (MtG) Pilot Projects in the region.

As we are planning a face-to-face MtG conference (which will take place when it is safe to do so) I will give some examples but not too much detail about the projects that took place. Providing too much detail about any one project at this stage may simply ‘steal the thunder’, of each of the pilot project teams, who want to be first to authentically present their experiences, findings, outcomes and future plans to tell their story and impact their unique impact at the conference.

Five pilot MtG projects in the region were part funded by the West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership.

Funding included:

- payment for involving experts by experience who have/are receiving social services.

- the provision of resources at each MtG session/meeting.

In this respect we recognise and acknowledge again the enthusiasm and support provided by former Teaching Partnership Project Manager Marvin Campbell in starting and supporting this initiative.

Out of the five pilot projects, four full evaluations and one overview evaluation have been received by the Teaching Partnership.

Projects included academics, practitioners, students and Experts by Experience (EbE) working together in genuine partnership – with a focus on the (pre-COVID-19) gaps and issues faced by specific citizen groups receiving social services. Projects typically ran for 6 to 8 sessions over approximately 2 to 3 months.

Early indications are that all projects have resulted in ‘deep learning’ for those involved and had very positive impacts and outcomes.

Expert by Experience feedback is overwhelmingly favourable. What is particularly striking and grounding is their consistent feedback about how much EbEs valued the opportunity to speak, have their voice heard and their views considered ‘seriously’. They have been clear that this is not their ‘normal’ or usual experience. They also advised, as a result of the projects - they now had a greater understanding of the social worker’s role. One EbE said:

“I have been able to give my point of view across and felt that I have been heard. My points have not been dismissed. I feel I have more insight into how a social worker works within their role.”

If there is one thing EbEs want – it is CHANGE. None of the EbEs are happy with current policy or current provision.

Project facilitators (a combination of academics and practitioners) spoke consistently about how, through all the expertise in the room - they had gained deeper insights into the issues being discussed and obtained greater clarity e.g. about receiving direct payments, or the day to day reality of being a carer for people with a diagnosis of learning disabilities.

Students consistently spoke about the learning they gained. One student said;

“It has given me practical learning points which I will be able to use in my course, placements and future role.”

One social worker said; “It helped me to more deeply reflect upon the lack of resources available.”

One social work academic said; “I think the biggest thing it gave me was going back to what social work is about, but also the reality of practice today.”

All Project Teams have been able to identify the value of a MtG approach, have developed plans to mend identified gaps, facets they would change if they engaged in a future project and specific teaching and learning plans for the future.

Almost all projects discovered that there is still a need to work on, improve and develop the basics e.g.

- to better understand and communicate the ‘role of the social worker’.

- to improve communication and relationship building skills within social work practice.

All pilots developed aims and plans for the future:

· Some want to develop and deliver specific teaching sessions e.g. about Direct Payments, relationship building or communication.

· Some want to change current policy at local and national level.

· Some want to develop a new academic module.

Many members of projects have commented passionately on how the process;

- results in personal and professional change.

- breaks down barriers. It breaks down barriers between academics, EbEs, social workers and students.

One EbE said; “It BREAKS barriers. I have gained a passion for championing the social worker and service user to be one united team.”

The Lead Facilitators of each pilot project have done a tremendous job and the time, energy and passion they have given is recognised by the Teaching Partnership.

It was intended that the main experiences, learning, outcomes and future plans for each project would be shared at a regional MtG conference coordinated by Albert Moylan and Nicole Collins on 7th May 2020 at Birmingham City University. National and Regional agencies and speakers had been organised. Naturally this conference had to be suspended but will run at a future date when it is safe to do so. The intention is that this conference will be an opportunity for sharing learning and become a springboard for even deeper and wider working together as ‘equal partners’ – bringing together our unique and valuable expertise to create positive and lasting change.

Through MtG, which involves genuine, open and meaningful participation at a deep and egalitarian level, we are committed to ensuring the current and real issues faced by experts through experience remain at the centre of teaching, learning and practice.

If you have any questions about MtG within the Teaching Partnership, please do not hesitate to contact albert.moylan@bcu.ac.uk

We look forward to seeing you at a future MtG Conference.

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