By Alison Ford 

As the Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) lead for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Evaluations, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) – one of the NIHR funding centres – I have a strong interest in learning and development for patient and public involvement. On joining the learning and development group I was delighted that there was so much expertise and experience to draw on, both within the NIHR and the wider learning world.

This time-limited group was established by INVOLVE in April 2013, following a stakeholder workshop on learning and development for public involvement in research. The aim of the group was to develop and initiate a plan and recommendations for a NIHR-wide approach to learning and development.

The learning and development group met every couple of months with staff and public members drawn from all corners of the NIHR. The NIHR is a ‘distributed’ organisation with a huge geographical spread so it was clear at the outset that we would not be able to create a ‘standard curriculum’ for the NIHR staff, public contributors and researchers who need to learn the skills and knowledge for effective involvement. Instead, we formed small project groups to develop a variety of ways of changing how people learn about public involvement and develop their skills in it. All the projects set out to be ‘learner-centred’, that is to work on the basis that people are good at identifying their own learning needs and the best way to help them is to provide information and support in ways that best suit the learner. The group will produce its report and recommendations this summer. 

In addition to the report, the main outputs from the project groups will be as follows:

  • A document outlining principles and indicators for learning and development which we hope will become essential reading for all in the NIHR who have responsibility for people who are learning about public involvement. These principles and indicators could be used by individuals and organisations to both assist them in establishing good practice and in assessing themselves and their organisations against the learning and development support they provide.
  • Examples of practical tools/resources that can be used by organisations and individuals to assist in assessing their learning needs. 
  • A pilot online forum for members of the public who review commissioning briefs, research funding applications and other documents for the NIHR.  Reviewers can feel isolated as they rarely meet the NIHR staff or each other face-to-face. An online survey among these folk has led to the development of a ‘Google+ community’, facilitated by NIHR staff, which will be tested as a way of providing mutual support. This has proved a technological challenge! We are persisting and initially will invite a small number of public reviewers to join and test the forum.

I think I can speak for all the public involvement ‘experts’ who contributed to the working group when I say we found it a fascinating process but a huge challenge to devise some really useful changes that will make a difference to the quality of public involvement. We know it is important that someone in each centre has clearly-identified responsibility for the quality of public involvement and takes up the resources emerging from this group to ensure that public contributors, researchers and other NIHR staff all develop their understanding of and skills in public involvement.

For further information on the work of the group see

Contact: Alison Ford, Senior Programme Manager, Stakeholder Engagement,

National Institute for Health Research Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre


Tel: 023 8059 7435