In deciding who best to involve it is important to think about the knowledge and perspective that you are looking for from members of the public, and what support you are able to give to people who you plan to involve.
Even if your research is about informing practitioners about approaches to practice, the end user of the research will be the person receiving the practice. In some research projects you will want to consider involving both practitioners and members of the public:
Involving more than one person will have the advantage of allowing you to involve different people at different stages of the research process, and allow people to choose how they want to be involved.
It will also help you to:
Researchers often ask how they can ensure that the people they involve are ‘representative’. However it is more helpful to think about seeking people’s perspectives rather than looking for people who are representative. Consider the broad and different views and experiences you will need to include and how you are going to involve people. Try to ensure that you have a variety of perspectives so you get different viewpoints and allow time for those who have the skills you require for the project to network with others.
Members of the public cannot be representative of everyone who uses a particular service or has a specific condition. Equally we would not expect one clinician, for example, to be representative of all clinicians.
For most studies it is not appropriate for people involved in the research to also be participants in the research as that can compromise both the researcher and the person involved. The possible exceptions to this may include some participatory/action research studies where the participants of the research may also be acting as co-researchers, influencing the shape of the study as it progresses.
Once you have considered who you would like to involve, you then need to think about how to make contact with them. Speak with colleagues and members of the public and ask for their views on how to find the people you want to involve.
Allow time to make contact with organisations and individuals as finding people will nearly always take longer than you think.
Others have contacted people by:
Individuals were recruited through several chronic disease patient groups identified by the patient liaison officer at the local primary care trust (PCT). To maintain confidentiality the prospective members of the public received an information sheet about the research asking them if they would be interested in being part of an advisory group. The information was prepared by the researchers but it was sent out by the patient liaison officer to members of patient groups active within the PCT.
(Sutton and Weiss 2008 page 233)
Spend time developing networks and building relationships. This might involve visiting organisations to hear about what they do and talking to them about your research.
Putting Evidence for Older People into Practice in Living Environments (PEOPPLE)
In the PEOPPLE project the School of Health Sciences and Social Work at the University of Portsmouth worked in partnership with key non-statutory organisations that were central to engaging with the local community and would be collaborators on the study.
Many researchers develop long term relationships with organisations and individuals that continue for many years past the involvement in the first research project.
Be aware that some people or organisations might choose not to get involved in your work. This might be for a variety of reasons but it might be because their aims do not match yours, they do not have the time, or because the practical costs of either getting involved or finding somebody to get involved in your work is too great. Some organisations charge when they are asked to find people to get involved in research activities.
Find out more about how to find people to involve:
Strategies for diversity and inclusion in public involvement: Supplement to the briefing notes for researchers (INVOLVE 2012)
People in Research – a national resource to help members of the public find opportunities to get involved in research and for research organisations / researchers to advertise involvement opportunities
Involving London has a range of information and opportunities for public involvement in research in London
North West People in Research Forum – supporting patient and public involvement and patient engagement in health research in the North West
Patient UK has a comprehensive list of national and local support groups and organisations
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