Researchers who invite members of the public to join a steering group may not have the time or resources to offer extensive training to these individuals. Therefore, it is vital to recruit the right people with the relevant skills and experience for the role. A formal selection process can help to find out if people have the necessary knowledge and skills through their professional careers, prior training or any previous experience of involvement. It also helps members of the public to be clear about what’s involved and what to expect (see role description template in briefing notes).

Members of the public involved in steering groups are likely to benefit from having the following knowledge and skills:

  • awareness of research methods and terminology
  • understanding of public involvement in research and when their contributions bring added value
  • awareness of current research in their area
  • knowing how to effectively contribute to meetings
  • good communication skills to get their point across succinctly
  • IT skills – using email, managing meeting papers, reviewing and commenting on documents online
  • ability to take part in teleconferences.

Members of the public with previous experience of involvement may already have the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to effectively contribute to a project steering group. They may also have access to training opportunities via other research organisations, for example research networks or voluntary sector organisations.

Once members of the public are recruited to a steering group, specific ‘briefing’ is required to prepare them for their involvement with a particular project. This can usefully involve meeting face-to-face with the project lead before the first steering group meeting, when it is helpful to discuss the following:

The research protocol – Go through it in detail and answer any questions. This helps members of the public to be clear about what the research is about, what the project can and can’t deliver, and the various stages involved.

Other members of the steering group – The names of people who will be at the meetings, what role they will play and why they have been asked to join the group.

The limits of what can and can’t be changed – Clearly identifying up front what may be negotiable and explaining that the protocol cannot be changed at this stage.

How decisions will be made in the group – For example explaining that all suggestions will be considered and discussed, but that not all ideas can be taken up.