Listening to community voices: perspectives on consultation and engagement from people using disability services

Deborah Warr, Amber Mills and Vas Kasidis

How do people with disability view efforts to consult them about the services they use?

At a glance

This small study explored the experiences of people with disability, and their partners, carers and allies, who have been involved in consultation and engagement activities as users of services. We found that while various kinds of consultation take place, there is room for improvement in giving service users a voice in how services are designed and delivered and in responding to their insights.

Dive deeper

The research team comprised two researchers and a Community Project Officer (CPO) who brought to the team both lived experience expertise and experience in conducting disability-related research.

Key insights from the study included:

Participants reported they have been involved in activities ranging from providing feedback to membership of advisory boards and co-designing programs and services.

  • Consultation and engagement can signal respect for people with disability and the value of lived experience perspectives
  • Consultation and engagement are important for understanding and meeting the diverse needs of people with disability
  • Participants wanted more co-design and co-production.
  • Commitment to consultation and engagement can be factors when choosing or changing service providers.
  • Safe and respectful consultation includes active listening, explaining how insights will be used, reporting back about findings and using insights to make positive changes.
  • When the aims are not explained and the results not shared, services users assume the consultation is largely for the benefit of other stakeholders, such as funders, rather than for improving the delivery of services and programs
  • Insensitivity to power dynamics deters service users from being involved or providing honest feedback
  • A lack of formal consultation processes that allow confidential or depersonalised responses can especially disadvantage service users who concerned about the repercussions of providing negative feedback.
  • Many consultation and engagement activities rely on the perspectives of family and carers, rather than involving people with disability and so promoting their agency and control in their lives
  • The disempowering effects of poor consultation and engagement can exacerbate other experiences of trauma
  • Poorly conceived consultation and engagement can undermine trust and confidence. Improving participation of service users may require rebuilding trust and confidence in its value while redressing concerns about its risks.

Last updated on 3 October 2023