In rolling out the programme participants and staff felt that organisation is key. The setting up of a planning group to discuss and plan the programme was recommended. This planning committee would include future participants of the programme and/or persons with disabilities. Collaboration is key. This is particularly the case with involving participants of the programme in the planning stages of the programme. A participation approach in all areas of the programme was identified as a priority. Arranging group participants to meet with staff and facilitators before the programme commences could facilitate this. In one instance the collaboration of two CDPs and one FRC in the Limerick region proved a success.
Staff appreciated assistance from the programme initiators in the administrative aspects of the programme, particularly on what accommodations should be accounted for in funding applications. Greater consideration needs to be given to the allocation of funding. The evaluation team felt that more advice should be given to programme co-ordinators in how costs should be managed and allocated both in applications and implementation of the programme.
The DSFA had facilitated some projects by inserting information about the programme into selected mail shots so that potential participants would be informed. While some project staff thought this was a great idea, none could say whether this was actually effective. It might be argued that the role of community based projects is to develop their own communication routes, especially as not all potential participants will be claimants.
The recruitment of participants for each programme should give consideration to the background of participants and their type of disability. Recruitment should take account of the policy of the Health Service Executive to encourage large-scale residential service providers for people with disabilities to develop community-based settlement of residents in towns and villages across the country.
The Step Forward Programme might be described as a programme of social participation, learning or information.
Rolling out the programme
Promoters of initiatives should have some basic data on disability, which is available from public sources or other non-profit bodies, while preparing their applications.
In material supplied to the review team, reference was made to drawing up a simple toolkit of practical steps in rolling out the Programme. Such a resource is not in existence. The review team would be favourable to such a resource being available to project staff.
Individuals with a wide range of disabilities attended the programme. However, some of the impairments that individuals have may have an impact on the topic preferences of the individuals.
Size of participant group
Staff felt that the size of the group was important. The greater the size of the group, the harder it is for participants to connect with each other. One staff member recommended a number between 12–18 as the ideal group size. This would allow participants to have an input into the programme content.
Greater consideration needs to be given to the curriculum the Steps to Mainstreaming Participation Framework. The evaluation team were made aware that in some instances the group did not easily relate to the activities and topics addressed in the Programme. For many participants, their personal background had a significant impact on their preferences for programme content.
Participants described the programme as a ‘social outing’. Both staff and participants expressed an overwhelming preference for social rather than learning aspects of the course. Should the programme be redesigned, this factor should be taken into consideration.
The evaluation team recommends that in rolling out such programmes in the future, original material be drafted or referenced to its source or idea.
Although many staff members appreciated the use of external non-local facilitators, due to the extra costs of travel and accommodation expenses incurred through their hiring, the review team felt that additional costs such as these should be kept to a minimum, through hiring local or regional specialised facilitators, where qualified and available.
In terms of reasonable accommodations, the evaluation team were impressed with the extent to which reasonable accommodations, once identified, had been organised.
Equity between participants
A problem in the successful rolling out of programme was the issue of some participants receiving a top-up payment to their Disability Allowance, while others did not. Some programmes remedied this by paying an equal allowance to non-claimants out of the project funds.
Progression through the Framework
Most projects employed just one or two steps of the Mainstreaming Framework. In the relatively short duration of the programme, there was no evidence of progression to a third or fourth ‘step.’
Some projects had little contact with others working in the field of disability in their local areas. Some projects were positively discouraged from pursuing the programme on the grounds that the projects were not specialised or service providers.
Record keeping was weak. Simple data should be maintained on how many participants enrol and remain in the programme. Records should be kept of the outcomes for the individuals involved and in terms of any changes in their status, for example to in a volunteering capacity, training course attendance or other participant statuses and outcomes.
In the course of the evaluation, no FRC or CDP staff person suggested an increase in budget. Most had found the budget broadly adequate for their needs.