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  • Author or Editor: Henrike Kowalk x
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In March 2018, the Karel de Grote University College in Antwerp initiated an international dialogue between social work lecturers, researchers and experts by experience (EBE) about the benefits and obstacles of service-user involvement in social work education and research. Approximately 20 EBE with different sociodemographic characteristics and backgrounds from the UK, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy participated and discussed the involvement of people with lived experiences in many different contexts. Among the participants there was an overall agreement regarding the benefits, but we also identified a number of factors that hinder the integration of EBE in education and research. These factors are linked to cultural and societal structures, which is why we think that they need to be made more explicit. Before elaborating the obstacles that EBE encounter in their activities, we elaborate on two important beneficial factors.

Each country uses a specific term to refer to people with lived experiences in the social service and mental healthcare system, for example: service users, experiential experts, experts by experience, peers or service users. For the purpose of this chapter, we stick with the term experts by experience because it stresses the expertise that people with lived experiences have, and it encompasses a greater variety of people. After all, not every EBE is still a service user. An EBE is understood as a person with lived experiences in social and mental healthcare services from which he or she has developed insights which they use as a resource to support others or to inform the broader services and institutions in general (for example, Sedney et al, 2016; Videmšek, 2017).

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In this chapter, we describe and analyse a collaborative practice in social work education that is applied in a similar way in different European educational institutions, namely co-teaching in tandem. For the purpose of the chapter, we focus solely on the Flemish (Belgium) and Dutch (the Netherlands) context, since both have many characteristics in common. Typically, the involvement of service users has started with the involvement of people with experiences of poverty and social exclusion. Flanders is internationally known for its participatory anti-poverty policy. Through a scientifically informed, structural vision of poverty integrated in policy thinking, we focus on ‘vulnerable people in society’ who have multi-dimensional problems but also many strengths. With the recognition and subsidisation of associations wherein people in poverty cooperate to influence policy and practice (Dierckx and Francq, 2010) and of the non-profit organisation De Link – which since 1999 has developed the methodology and a training programme for ‘experts by experience in poverty and social exclusion’ (Spiesschaert, 2005) – Flanders, with the act on the fight against poverty (Decreet betreffende de armoedebestrijding, 2003), has enabled people in poverty to participate in anti-poverty policy and practices (Driessens and Goris, 2016). De Link stimulated ‘working in tandem with an educated expert by experience’ in various settings. Bind-Kracht, anchored at the Karel de Grote University of Applied Sciences and Arts, developed training programmes in qualitative social work, in which people in poverty are recruited by the associations together with researchers and lecturers. Both organisations inspired lecturers from universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands to implement this method of working in tandem in their own educational programmes (Bouwes and Philips, 2016).

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