Notes from the field of public involvement

Tuesday, 07 November 2006

Once a suspect, always a suspect

The great M-A-C tradition is that we all have actual experience over a considerable time of representing the public in different organisations. Our Associate Consultant Caroline Millar writes about the all too common frustrations of being an involved member of the public.

I was inspired by a rather odd AGM at my park user group on Saturday where I and the rest of my fellow committee members were given a really hard time because we had been around for too long and "never give anyone else a chance to get involved". Year after year we try to find other people to share the work but no-one ever offers to help.

Almost all the officers have tried to resign, offered ultimatums etc. but no-one else ever offers. It is only a sense of guilt and public duty that keeps some of us going. Exactly the same thing happened with the Parent Staff Association (PSA) in the school. We had to let it die and set up the parents' forum before the PSA took on a new lease of life. At this very same Park meeting about two minutes later we asked for volunteers to fill a number of roles such as putting up posters, managing the website etc. but were met by a deafening silence and the guy who had attacked us said HE did not want to get involved, he just thought someone else should. Bloody LURKER!

Secondary to all this is the endless flak that you get as a volunteer for not being inclusive enough. You fall over yourself to try to include so called minorities but still no-one comes and then you start feeling guilty for getting involved and being whatever it is that makes you not count (female/male, white, middle class, prepared to open your mouth).

And then to make matters worse you find that the providers you are trying to talk to, don't really want to hear what you have to say because they don't think you are "representative". I have been through this so many times I feel pretty resilient but I think it is really off-putting and disheartening for people who do give their time, energy and expertise. What can the volunteers themselves do about it? Are there lessons in here for service providers?

Now I know why people who get involved are called "the usual suspects" - it is because everyone suspects us of some sort of crime but they are still working out exactly what it is. In the meantime, we have no option but to go on committing it, I suppose.

Related posts: New page needed in Involvement – PARENTS FORUMS

Caroline Millar finds herself part of 1% solution - both shaken and stirred

Caroline Millar | (Problem occured connecting to database: The server requested authentication method unknown to the client