Learning and development for public involvement: a personal reflection

By Amander Wellings

Amander WellingsI have been a voluntary member of Norfolk and Suffolk Group, Patient and Public Involvement in Research (PPIRes) for over a decade. I am an INVOLVE Group member and also review for funding bodies and sit on the East of England Research for Patient Benefit Advisory Group. I am a lifelong carer so feel I have a lot of personal experience and common sense which can help researchers create research that patients and carers want. I believe that learning and development is essential for real public involvement; without a certain level of understanding no group can work together properly. Learning and development is needed for patients and carers, researchers and those who have public involvement management roles. At the last INVOLVE conference, INVOLVE surveyed delegates and discovered that researchers felt they had not received enough learning and development in public involvement and they wanted more. When I am reviewing applications, it seems that many researchers do not understand public involvement.

Some important questions that I have considered are:

  • How do we provide what people need?
  • Do people need to be taught, coached or mentored?

We need learning and development that fits all roles and is learner centred, that is it suits how individuals learn and meets their support needs. Diversity can be lost without this.

We need to embrace new technology where possible but always remember those who lack computer literacy or the necessary resources.

There are pockets of good practice in learning and development for public involvement, but also much re-inventing of the wheel, wasting valuable resources.

I have learnt a lot by doing; however, sometimes when thrown in at the deep end you struggle to swim. The whole experience can feel frustrating when you cannot give your best due to lack of support and learning opportunities. It took me three years to really feel confident on a research governance committee.

My learning journey is fuelled by wanting the things I am passionate about to really succeed. If they do not succeed, I aim to learn, from personal reflection and feedback, how things can be done differently next time. Time for feedback and to question is important for all and I sometimes think it is impossible within tight research schedules/budgets, but it needs to be given priority.

Cicero once said: “The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.” Involving the public in developing training resources for themselves, researchers and management breaks down some of the barriers between these groups and we all have much to learn from each other. This collaboration is useful for active public involvement; if the seeds are sown in training then we can reap the rewards and develop further.

This issue of the INVOLVE newsletter has a learning and development theme and contains articles from several perspectives showing how learning and development may be different depending on the role/needs you have. It includes an article about the National Institute for Health Research-wide learning and development working group, of which I am a member. For more information about the work of this group see the article  in this newsletter and the INVOLVE website www.involve.nihr.ac.uk/about-involve/current-work/learning/. We do not have all the answers yet – it is a very complex subject – but we have developed recommendations and resources.

Learning should be fun and not a laborious ‘death by PowerPoint’ experience; to quote the great John Cleese: “He who laughs most, learns best.”

Contact: Amander Wellings

Email: amanderwellings@yahoo.co.uk