How ‘real’ participation in a mental health program evaluation can contribute to a participant’s ‘recovery’.
Dr. John Donnelly.
Participation in evaluation can take a number of forms: completing a survey; being interviewed formally or informally; completing a questionnaire; and then there is the option of being able to give a personal perspective in a non-prescribed manner – being able to ‘tell one’s story’ (“the voice of the lived experience”) as it relates to what is being evaluated, and have that story make a contribution to the knowledge generated in relation to what is being evaluated.
The Partners in Recovery (PIR) Program is a program for persons with serious and persistent mental health issues. In PIR, recovery is defined as, “… able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice with or without the presence of mental health issues”. The local evaluation of the Hume PIR, has intentionally sought to actively involve program participants in the evaluation by utilising evaluation tools which enable evaluation informants to participate through a non-extractive process, one which allows them to share their story with the evaluator and hence the broader community.
By having control over the content and direction of the evaluation as it related to the individual participant, the participant maintained ownership of the knowledge generated which most agreed, albeit anonymously, to share with the broader public. The process also enabled individuals to attribute various aspects of their life experience to changes in their life circumstance. Whether they attributed these changes to PIR or other factors was important to them and informative to the evaluation and the PIR staff.
Participants in the evaluation all appreciated the fact that they felt that they were a partner in the evaluation and not the subject of it. The tangible nature of using the Ten Seed (stone) Technique as a way of giving a degree of quantification to otherwise very qualitative data was valued as it enabled regular and consistent comparisons to be made in relation to the participant’s personal perception of self. This is the real strength of this evaluation – it is a contributing factor to ‘recovery’ not just a measure of it.