There is an increasing literature setting out models and good practice in service-user involvement in social work education (Skilton, 2011; Robinson and Webber, 2013; Tanner et al, 2015; Askheim et al, 2017; Duffy et al, 2017; Cabiati and Levy, 2020). Pedagogically this work is framed by approaches to integrating the voices, lived experiences and experiential knowledge of service users and carers into social work education. While these voices are becoming less marginal within social work education, the contribution of service users and carers as co-authors in this literature is less visible (McPhail, 2007; Fox, 2016; Bell et al, 2020; Levy et al, 2016, 2020). This chapter contributes to addressing this lacuna by being co-authored with three Scottish service users and/or carers, also called experts by experience. All three have written reflectively on their experiences of involvement in social work education and their perceptions of the impact of their involvement on students’ learning, social work practice and on them personally. The chapter also includes reflective accounts written by Italian social work students as part of their course work. The EBE and students all used the concept of ‘inspiring conversations’ (Cabiati and Levy, 2020) as a starting point to explore and reflect on their experiences of user involvement in social work education.
‘Experts by experience’ (EBE), rather than ‘service users’, is used in this chapter as a term that more coherently conveys the essence of experiential and tacit knowledge; that is, knowledge acquired through living with a disability, being a family carer and/or receiving social services. The term EBE locates experiential, tacit knowledge in the experiences of service users, but is also inclusive of people who, for a variety of reasons, do not receive services (McLaughlin, 2009). More broadly, the term engages with the struggles, emotions and muted voices from the margins, and with people living precarious lives.
We start the chapter by discussing the concept of inspiring conversations; second, we contextualise the involvement of EBE in social work education at the University of Dundee, Scotland, and the Catholic University of Milan, Italy. We then present reflections from the three co-authors, Dow, Dowson and Swankie, and from student social workers.