Everyone’s Story is Important; Service user narrative dissertation

Yvonne Clark, Debbie Butler, Joan Cook, Julie Gosling, Anne Felton, Laura Holliday (co-produced by service users and academics)
University of Nottingham
Patient and Public Involvement


“Everyone’s Story” facilitated the development of service users’ participation in undergraduate student nurses’ dissertation opportunities. Students are offered the opportunity to meet individually with a person with lived experience of distress, disability or illness to listen to their experiences.  In their writing students are then asked to reflect on the impact this narrative has had on their learning and explore the implications for nursing.  The interaction aims to level the power relationships evident in both healthcare practice and research as the content of discussion is led by service users, and students are encouraged to draw on their own lived experience as health professionals and patients during the dissertation development. The dissertation option was co-produced with the design, delivery and evaluation of the project overseen by a steering group of service users and academics.  Story telling preparation and evaluation workshops for those participating were service user led.

What are the Aims?

By developing students understanding at an undergraduate level of the value of listening to people’s experiences, the project aims to facilitate compassionate person centred care. This option sits alongside more traditional literature based dissertations. It therefore also aims to promote the value of ‘knowledge-based practice’ (Bereford and Gladsby 2002) in which the contribution of service users to the knowledge development of healthcare practice is valued alongside ‘evidence based’ approaches.

Who was/is involved?

Organisations: University of Nottingham, Self Help UK, Making Waves, Nottingham Children’s Hospital.

Steering group members: Yvonne Clark, Debbie Butler, Joan Cook, Julie Gosling, Anne Felton, Laura Holliday.

Over 20 people with lived experience of health problems and family care contributed to the project.

What has changed/will change?

“Everyone’s story is important” is a new initiative that aspires to embed service users’ contribution to healthcare education across a broader range of educational activities. Evaluations completed by service users and students describe the powerful impact of the experience of working so closely together.

Extracts from student evaluations: I think it is a highly valuable experience. In my opinion nursing should be all about the patient, so having this meeting is such a great opportunity to have an insight into someone's views on the healthcare received and the impact on them and their family. It gives rich detail and makes the dissertation process more person centred. I learnt a lot about the feelings and thoughts a service user has in different aspects of nursing care from the hospital to the community. It was an enlightening experience”

“I pride myself on wanting to work with the recovery model and so a project around involving service users was exciting, I have really enjoyed it and it has drilled home how important it is to place the service user at the heart of decision making.  It made me think on a deeper level and allowed me to become more self-aware and develop my critical thinking skills. The information I learnt from service user I would never learn from a textbooks and I got an experience I will never forget”

Feedback from service users reflected the different and more intimate experience that this offered compared to the ‘performance’ involved in teaching large groups.  They described the opportunity as a privilege in which the professionalism and skills of the students they met was commended.  Service users would like to see further developments that would enable them to view students’ dissertations when completed.  Overall, service users recognised that this was having a clear impact on professional education and described it as an approach that “reaches the parts other teaching can’t reach!”

There are a number of barriers to the participation of service users in professional education which traps contribution at consultation rather than partnership level.  This development has surmounted a number of these barriers and adopted a co-production across the planning and delivery of the educational process including the design and delivery of resource materials.

What lessons have we learnt?

The process of developing and setting up Everyone’s Story is important has emphasised the importance of organisational commitment within HEI’s to service user participation; requiring both a financial and human resource cost to enable the effective running of the project and adequate training and support for those involved.  Organisational culture that supports the vision to facilitate the inclusion of creativity in dissertation options is also significant.

Contact details

Dr Anne Felton, School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham Anne.Felton@nottingham.ac.uk 01158230536

Links to further information and resources

Glasby J, Beresford P (2006) Who knows best? Evidence Based Practice and the Service User Contribution Critical Social Policy 26(1) 268-284