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A Strategy

for the Development of the

National Survivor User Network


May 2007 



This initial proposal for the strategic development of NSUN, ‘the network’, has been developed in line with the Aims, Mission and Values as described in the document  ‘Inaugural Mission, Aims and Values, May 2007’ and in line with the key activities described in the original ‘Terms of Reference, September 20061’. 

The strategic approach described in this document sees us moving forward along two major fronts: 

  1. Making Partnership Working  & Capacity Building central to the strategic development of the Network. This covers all aspects of the network development that have primarily an external component and will therefore be of greatest interest to the wider service user / survivor community. Our plan of how the network will move forward through collaboration and partnership with other service user / survivor-led organisations is contained here.
  1. Creating a robust organisation. In order to achieve the above aims a strong organisation is needed with a sustainable future. Our plan for creating this organisation is contained here. This is the foundation on which all the other work can be built.


Making Partnership Working and Capacity Building central to the to the strategic development of the Network 

A guiding principle in developing the network should be focusing on using and developing existing and new capacity in other mental health service user / survivor organisations rather than creating a new large organisation. Developing partnerships between others and ourselves, facilitating and brokering partnerships between service user / survivor groups and facilitating and brokering partnerships between service user / survivor and others will be central to our work. Supporting this, five other areas of work have been identified for the network. A brief statement covering partnership working and each of these five areas in turn, including how partnership working will be implemented in these five areas, follows below: 

Partnership Working




Creating regional, diversity and specialist structures





Being a knowledge resource

Local and specialist knowledge

Building on existing knowledge

(Co-) commissioning research


Using existing structures

Building on existing capacity

Identifying gaps

Providing training and information

Providing support & encouraging peer support

Informing the Network 

Developing, facilitating and brokering partnerships


Developing, facilitating and brokering partnerships will be key components of our work. By working together service user /survivor groups are in a far stronger position to be able to sustain themselves, create new initiatives, work as equal partners with others and have more impact. Supporting the formation of partnerships and agreements between service user / survivor groups and non- service user / survivor led organisations will also be an important part of this work. This will sometimes be initiated by service user / survivor led groups, sometimes by us and sometimes by non- service user / survivor led organisations i.e. Statutory providers and commissioners, government and voluntary sector organisations. We recognise that being able to engage successfully with service user / survivor -led groups is a priority for many of these organisations and that therefore the brokering and facilitation we offer has potential commercial value (see ‘Being Financially sustainable’ below). 

Partnership working provides opportunities to build and develop the strengths that already exist within service user / survivor led organisations and groups and should allow the network to develop and expand far faster than would otherwise be possible. It is not without its problems though. Matching requests for partnership and making sure that expectations are both clear and obtainable is a real challenge. Even then and with all the best intentions partnerships sometimes fail through poor communication, unclear agreements, personality clashes and where competitive interests are perceived to outweigh the advantages of collaboration. The NSUN will often have to act as a mediator and will need to monitor and maximise the effectiveness of partnerships by measuring and managing performance across all the partnership activities we are involved in or broker. 

Being a knowledge resource 

Central to our role as a knowledge resource is the creation of a database of information for and about service user / survivor -led groups and organisations. Some of the information about these groups and organisations already exists within other databases or other organisations are striving to collect this information. We will therefore:

  1. Identify other similar databases
  2. Collaborate with these organisations on deciding which information needs to be gathered
  3. Draw up agreements with
    1. Protocols for data collection
    2. Protocols for data sharing between databases including any payments involved
    3. Protocols for access to the data and contracts covering income derived from access to the data
  4. Share data and access to this data following the above protocols
  5. Initiate and participate in research that addresses gaps in knowledge.

Also some organisations already collect and disseminate information that is of value to other groups and organisations. We will have a role in signposting to this information or making this information more widely available. However there are also gaps in accessible information for service user / survivor -led groups and organisations. We would hope to expand on this, for example by translating changes in law and government policy into clear briefings. We envisage doing some of this work ourselves, and some in partnership with other organisations, perhaps through the formation of a service user / survivor -led parliamentary working group or similar. 

We will become important as a knowledge resource for individual service users / survivors, for service user / survivor groups organisations and networks, and also for government, statutory organisations and other non-service user / survivor led organisations. In principle all the (non-confidential) information we hold should be made freely available to service users / survivors and service user / survivor groups, however we also recognise that this a commercially valuable resource and charging others for accessing this information may become an important source of sustainable revenue (see ‘Being Financially Sustainable’ below). 


It is not the aim of the network to become a service user / survivor -led research organisation but some of our most important aims may best be achieved through research. Examples include:


Many other service user / survivor -led organisations are interested in answering similar research questions, sometimes as part of larger research agendas. Working in collaboration with these groups to obtain the required funding and to make use of their existing capacity would be of benefit both to us and to any groups we work in partnership with. By working in partnership we can be more effective in obtaining the data we require and we will simultaneously be supporting capacity building within service user / survivor groups. 

Supporting Capacity Building 

Some of the research work above will identify priorities for capacity building within service user / survivor groups, both by strengthening existing groups and by encouraging the development of new initiatives. There are several ways in which this can take place:


The network will have an important role as a source of information and should be able to signpost to other possible sources of information. Developing partnerships to meet our own objectives will also be important in both more efficiently reaching these objectives and supporting capacity building in other organisations. The network will support other organisations funding applications, provide training and in this, and other ways, become a major resource for other service user / survivor organisations. However the network will have an even more important role in helping groups to find the support they need through partnership with other service user / survivor -led organisations.

In supporting organisations directly we will focus on identifying and supporting development in:


Groups will be prioritised through the mapping process above. 

Training and Communication 

The network will provide some training directly in order to help build capacity in the wider service user / survivor -involvement movement, however the longer-term aim will be primarily to provide information about other service user / survivor -led training initiatives and to support the development of these initiatives. The network also aims to increase the availability of appropriate training for service user / survivor and service user / survivor groups by supporting other service user / survivor -led organisations to develop relevant training programs. With this and all other partnership activities communication will be of central importance both internally and externally.  

It is expected that the network will be seen as a resource for the media, commissioners, service providers and policy makers. When relevant to our role the network will provide these resources directly. With other requests it will be more appropriate to signpost to other organisations. We will work together with service user / survivor -led organisations which have specialised expertise in effective communication and the use of different media. Again, this will be of benefit to us in ensuring we are as effective as possible and it will also help fulfil our desire to support capacity building within service user / survivor groups.

When we do present messages to the media we need to be as in control as possible of how we appear in the media; we need to present clear and consistent messages. The development of protocols for media engagement and a number of key messages will be vital in doing this.  

As important as our external communication, ensuring that we communicate well internally is vital to our success. Developing effective communication mechanisms is so vital to the organisation that it is seen as one of the five key objectives in ‘Creating a Robust Organisation’ (see below). 

Creating Regional, Diversity and Specialist Structures. 

In creating regional, diversity and specialist structures we will, wherever possible, work together with existing networks. By ensuring that there are networks that link individuals and groups together within regions, that there are also networks that link individuals and groups together with similar specialist interests (e.g. groups with a research interest) and networks that link individuals and groups together with a similar diversity focus (e.g. groups for service users and survivors within Black and Minority Ethnic communities) we will ensure that the information we disseminate is targeted as effectively as possible, that service users and survivors are in the best possible position to provide each other with mutual support and that we are aware as of local and minority issues. 

We also need to ensure that the staff and management committee are accessible to service users. This means that both staff and management committee members will need to meet regularly with existing networks. This will include holding management committee meetings at different locations and in this way providing opportunities to meet local groups and exchange information.

Our plans for developing regional, diversity and specialist structures are expanded on in more detail in the document ‘Developing a Structure for the Network’.



Creating a robust organisation 

A strong organisation with a sustainable future is the foundation on which all our other work can be built. This will be achieved by working towards the following five objectives: 

  1. Ensuring Service User / Survivor -Led Independence

The development of an independent, transparent and accountable structure is essential to the success of the network. The creation of the network was a service user / survivor -led initiative. A Network Planning Group was established consisting entirely of service users and survivors as a response to recommendations from the ‘On Our Own Terms’ report. The network has however relied on support from non- service user / survivor -led voluntary sector organisations in becoming established and obtaining the initial funding. This support has been essential and the network continues to need to be hosted by an established financially stable organisation. This hosting is entirely for financial and legal reasons. A committee of service users / survivors has effective executive control over the network. This situation will remain necessary until the network becomes an independent legal entity. The members of the management committee and others closely involved with the network are convinced that the involvement of the voluntary sector organisations has been motivated by a desire within these organisations, especially by the service user-involvement staff in these organisations, to see an independent service user / survivor -led network established and not by any possible financial or other gain by these organisations. Other service user / survivor have, understandably, been wary of this situation and would have preferred to see the network hosted by a service user / survivor -led organisation. The current situation has arisen out of tactical necessities and while it remains unchanged it is imperative that we are able to present a transparent and clear picture of the financial and decision-making structures within the network and the arrangements between the network and any other organisations. It is also important that the network moves as quickly towards an independent structure as is possible to do without undermining the networks stability and growth. Important factors to bear in mind during this process will be preparing and strengthening the management committee and staff team for loss of support from a larger organisation and satisfying the funding bodies that we are in a position to continue to be entrusted with the funding we receive. 

In working towards independence we will need to: 

    1. Develop an independent, transparent and accountable structure. No decisions have as yet been made about what this structure will be though proposals for a membership structure exist in a document ‘Developing a structure for the Network’. The structure that is chosen will have to:
      1. Meet legal requirements
      2. Be entirely service user / survivor -led
      3. Ensure that we have accountability to the wider service user / survivor movement.
      4. Ensure that a management committee is maintained with the required skills and knowledge
      5. Ensure that the management committee is diverse and representative of different minority groups and geographic regions
      6. Ensure that the management committee includes service users / survivors who do not as yet have experience of engagement at a national level.
    1. Develop suitable policies and procedures. A full range of policies and procedures for the governance of the network will need to be in place before independence (see 2.a. below, ‘The development of policies and procedures’)
    1. Identify and fill any gaps in training or knowledge. At independence we will aim to have a highly skilled management committee and staff team able to independently face the challenges ahead (see 3.b. below ‘Opportunities for training and development’).
  1. Having clear and workable operational systems and systems for evaluation and monitoring

The efficient running of the organisation and the provision of a quality service is dependant on clear policies, procedures and monitoring and evaluation systems. This will be achieved by: 

    1. Developing policies and procedures. A working group has been established to develop and review policies and procedures. The group will be able to second other individuals, members of staff, volunteers or consultants with specialist knowledge if this is required to join the committee or do work on its behalf. All policies and procedures should be reviewed every three years or earlier if a need is identified.
    1. Putting systems for evaluation, monitoring and quality assurance in place. Developing systems for evaluation, monitoring and quality assurance is a priority that will be developed in consultation with funding bodies. The systems will include reporting procedures to funding bodies, the management committee and the wider public.
  1. Maintaining a skilled and motivated team

The network is not aiming to establish itself as a large organisation and will therefore rely on a very small team. The vulnerability that is a consequence of relying on a small team working under pressure within a highly politicised environment means that even more attention is needed to the support that this team receives. They will be supported by: 

    1. Providing good employment and working conditions. The (secondary) employment conditions within the hosting organisation are good. These will be guaranteed and continued after independence. All staff should have the opportunity and be encouraged to use independent external supervision and this right needs to be included within the employment conditions. Working conditions need to meet the legislative requirements and any reasonable special needs members of staff have. Prior to independence each of the posts needs to be reviewed to ensure that terms of employment reflect the level of experience and responsibility of the post.
    1. Ensuring there are adequate opportunities for training and development. Training and development opportunities need to be provided based on an annual audit of skills and post requirements. The possibility of establishing minimum individual training budgets for each member of staff needs to be explored
    1. Ensuring high performance. Good systems for supervision and appraisal need to be developed in order that performance is managed well. These systems need to be built around meaningful performance targets that are monitored through a line management structure within the staff team. The overall performance targets for the staff team are the responsibility of the network coordinator who needs in turn to be line managed by a member of the management committee. This member of the management committee has responsibility for reporting back to the full committee on any issues arising from their line management and discussing any changes and revisions of performance target with the team. They are also responsible for feeding back any comments from the management committee. When needed these comments will be fed down appropriately to staff by the coordinator.
  1. Communicating well

Three main objectives will be strived for in ensuring that we are communicating well: 

    1. Having a clear and consistent brand. The number of organisations in the field and the overlap there is between their different roles and functions can be very confusing. It is essential that the network present a clear face to the outside world. All the communications media we produce should be instantly recognisable as belonging to us. We need to be consistently clear about the essential features of the network:
      1. Our independence
      2. The fact that we are service user / survivor led
      3. Our primary functions as a networking organisation
    2. Having appropriate structures for internal communication. We need to make sure that we have clear systems for communicating between staff, between management committee members, between staff and management committee members and between the staff and management committee members with the wider membership.
    3. Using the technological and other resources that are available to us to communicate well. We need to reach a wide audience and this will mean communicating in different ways. We will need to continually evaluate our systems for communication in order to assess whether we are being as effective as possible in using the resources available to meet as much of this audience as possible.
  1. Being Financially Sustainable. We will ensure our financial sustainability by following the three objectives below:
    1. Sufficient financial reserves. The long-term sustainability of the network will depend on being able to build up financial reserves. Having sufficient financial reserves is also sometimes a pre-requisite for some funders. In order to build up financial reserves it is vital that we obtain unrestricted funding (see below)
    2. Clear financial systems. Clear financial systems are needed in order to ensure that our resources are used well, that we can have clear financial planning and that we can instil confidence in funders and other partners.
    3. A strategy for funding. In developing a strategy for funding it is useful to look at our funding requirements in terms of development and sustainability and stability:
      1. Funding development costs. Grants are an important source of funding and are particularly useful for developing new ideas. It is realistic to expect us to be able to obtain significant funding for development via grants over the next few years. The funding strategy for this funding will mirror our overall strategy for development.
      2. Sustainability and stability. It is notoriously difficult to obtain core funding or money for reserves from grant-making bodies. We are in a fortunate position that a significant part of the core costs has been funded for the first few years. In the funding for the development costs we will need to only accept funding where it is clear that there is full-cost recovery, including the associated management costs. Not doing this can seriously undermine a small organisation. In order to build up reserves and to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the network after the initial highly developmental first years we need to develop other sustainable revenue sources. There are three main ways in which this can happen:
        1. Income generation through providing services and other activities that provide income. Possibilities include training and consultancy activities, the commercial value of the information in the database and being paid by statutory bodies and non- service user / survivor -led voluntary sector organisations for brokering and facilitating their partnership with other service user / survivor groups.
        2. Encouraging donations. As the network becomes established and it becomes clear what we can achieve in supporting the wider service user / survivor movement we may be in a position to encourage donations to support our work.
        3. Sponsorship, especially of events like our annual conference.


For more information also see the following documents: 

Internal documents 

Developing a Structure for the Network (2007)

Inaugural Mission, Aims and Values, May 2007

NSUN Communications Policy (2007)

Terms of Reference, September 2006 

External documents 

Wallcraft, J., Read, J. & Sweeney, A. (2003) On Our Own Terms: Users and survivors of mental health services working together for support and change. London: The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. 

  1. Facilitate active links between service user groups and individuals
  2. Capacity building for service user groups
  3. Broker and facilitate access to service users for purposes of consultation, attendance on committees etc.
  4. Training

NSUN  Strategy 2007_05_20