Any charity this is recruiting a current or previous service user as a trustee must understand why exactly they want that person on their board, or they risk making a tokenistic appointment, according to a new study.
The paper says: "For over a decade the practice of service-user involvement has become embedded within the social sector; the role of service users as leaders, however, remains underexplored and underdeveloped."
She says the importance of service-user trustees is "grounded in the issues of credibility, inclusion and the embodiment of organisational values, but also effectiveness and the ability to influence policy-makers". However, the interviews she conducted revealed that the charities were also aware of the need to avoid tokenism or being seen to be ticking boxes.
Smith’s paper contains five questions that charities should ask themselves before appointing service-user trustees, including what their objective is in doing so, what impact the service user should have on decision-making and what specific barriers there might be that could make it difficult for service users to take on trusteeship.
The report says: "The board’s first step should be to dig beneath the rhetoric. Fully exploring why they want service users on the board is key to unlocking how they should do it and to avoiding a tokenistic appointment."