What do we mean by ‘training’?

We use the term ‘training’ to describe the wide range of activity that aims to help members of the public and researchers develop their knowledge, skills and experience to prepare them for public involvement in research.

The term training tends to suggest a one-off, one-day event to introduce a new skill but it is not always helpful to view training for public involvement in this narrow way. ‘Training’ in this context describes a multitude of different kinds of learning opportunities including:

  • group sessions with a trainer
  • providing high quality written materials and guidance
  • learning on-the-job
  • attending conferences
  • networking and shared learning with peers
  • online activities
  • university or college courses.

Think creatively and be open-minded when planning training for public involvement and try not to be constrained by a limited concept of what training involves. Recognise that those getting involved, whether researchers or members of the public, will come with a wide range of skills and experience. They will also have different learning styles – so individuals may have different preferences as to how they want to be trained and what may help them to learn the most.

What do we mean by ‘support’? 

We have used the term ‘support’ to describe a wide range of activity that enables researchers and service users to work together in research. This includes support to address:

  • practical and financial issues
  • emotional and psychological support
  • project supervision to promote professional and personal development.

Support can be offered in a range of different ways including via:

  • a user support worker
  • a member of the research team
  • a mentor with similar experience
  • team meetings
  • one-to-one meetings with line managers
  • informal or formal mechanisms of peer support.

Think about offering support through a variety of mechanisms for both researchers and members of the public when planning public involvement in research. 

Essential principles for training and support

Any form of training and support for members of the public, researchers or staff in research organisations should, ideally, be based on the following principles. 

Training and support needs to be tailored to the situation. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Training and support need to reflect the nature of the research project, the remit of the group, the specific needs of the individuals involved, and the resources available. 

If you’re offering training or support, it is best to be responsive to individual needs – so make sure any ‘off the shelf’, ready-made training courses offer what people have said they want to learn. Training and support also need to be in a style that suits them – for example training for young people may need to be delivered in a different way to training for adults.

Anyone in a research team may need training and / or support to develop their skills. Don’t assume researchers have all the necessary skills and knowledge for public involvement in research. Don’t assume that all members of the public lack the necessary skills and knowledge – they may only need help with adapting their existing skills to the research context. Build on the knowledge, skills and experience that people have already. Training members of the public and researchers together can often be very powerful.

Training and support should not be seen as one-off events. Both may need to continue throughout the life of a project or the life of a group. Learning opportunities should be built into all stages and linked directly to the task in hand. 

The success of training and support is often due to the skills and competencies of the person delivering it. Offering training or support requires specific skills and experience. For example, you may be good at something, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be good at training others to understand it or how to do it. If you don’t have the necessary skills or experience, draw on people who do.

Don’t assume that members of the public are only bringing their direct, personal experience of the topic. They bring a much wider variety of skills and knowledge to the research process. They often have as much to teach researchers as researchers have to teach them. The process of working together should be seen as an ongoing, two-way process of mutual learning and personal development.