1: Introduction

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Over the last three decades, governments in Europe and North America have increasingly emphasised and promoted user involvement in the planning, delivery and evaluation of social and health services (Omeni et al, 2014). Many factors drive the focus on user involvement, such as an increased focus on evidence-based practice and user-centred services, incentives offered by legislation, incentives from the user movement and professional development incentives (Waterson and Morris, 2005). The involvement of service users has become an important cornerstone of social practice and policy, but is also growing common in research and education, particularly in medical education, mental health nursing and social work (Rhodes, 2012). The rapid growth of the concept of user involvement in education shows in the emergence of many innovative collaborative practices across Europe and beyond, the scope and breadth of which differ across educational and national contexts. Whether sustained or developed on an ad hoc and experimental basis, all practices reflect a shift in professional theory and practice from passive to active models of working with vulnerable groups (Schön, 2015).

Although there is still a lot of work to be done with regard to evaluating the longer-term impact of user involvement on the practice of (social work) students (Chiapparini, 2016), it is beyond doubt that engaging service users in social work education contributes to professional learning and academic teaching. Because of their lived experiences, service users bring an eye-opening and clarifying perspective on what it means to live with disease, oppression or exclusion. They have a unique insight into what support is needed, which approaches work, and can provide valuable feedback on their personal experience with social services and professionals.

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