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Einbezug von Adressatinnen und Adressaten (User Involvement) in Praxis, Forschung und Lehre

At a glance

  • Project leader : Dr. Emanuela Chiapparini, Dr. Véronique Eicher
  • Project status : completed
  • Funding partner : Internal
  • Project partner : PowerUs Sweden



Next to social care provided by the state, self-help groups with somatic, psychological, social and other rarer issues are quite prevalent in Switzerland. In 1981, the first centre for self-help was created with the aim of developing and promoting self-help groups and in 1996 followed the foundation of a national association (i.e., “Selbsthilfe Schweiz”) to be able to represent the interests of the self-help groups with one voice. Today, “Selbsthilfe Schweiz” comprises more than 2000 self-help groups (Selbsthilfe Schweiz, 2015).

Contrary to self-help groups, user involvement has been slow to become included in public services in health and social work in Switzerland. The area in which user involvement has been most prominent is mental health (e.g., “Pro Mente Sana”, “EX-IN”). In 2013, people with psychiatric experience, founded the association “Peer Plus”, which is the first organization exclusively reserved for people with psychiatric experience who followed a qualification course. Peer involvement has also been quite prominent in the domain of substance abuse (prevention and treatment, e.g., [U25], Infodrog). Another type of user involvement is promoted by “Surprise”, which aims to help people in difficult situations to get themselves out of these conditions (e.g., sale of street papers, social city tours).


In all BSc degree programs in social work, students have many encounters with service users during courses. Additionally, they do one year of internship, working in two different social work facilities. As we have not yet been able to implement a complete course with the gap-mending approach, we have introduced a part of it in a course of the MSc curriculum since fall 2015. The course comprises different intervention strategies and the topic of empowerment. It lasted eight hours (one day) focusing on the gap-mending approach. First, we give an overview on empowerment, social mobilisation and service user involvement. Afterwards, we discuss a paper on the challenges and opportunities of the empowerment approach (Askheim 2003). In the afternoon session, two social work professionals and two service users present the common development of a social city tour project, which has been developed in collaboration between social work professionals and users. They specifically discuss opportunities and challenges in working together on a project from the initial development phase to everyday collaboration. The students are able to discuss both with the social work professionals and the service users about their opinion of service user involvement and empowerment. Our first experience with the course based on the gap-mending approach with a reflexive and practice perspective was highly motivating and the feedback from all participants was very encouraging.

In another course of the MSc curriculum, which focuses on reflecting the development of projects in social work, one afternoon session is dedicated to courses with a gap mending approach as an example of innovative projects in social work education. We present examples, discuss a paper, watch a film and reflect about challenges and opportunities of courses with the gap-mending approach.

Further information