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      ‘Is it worth doing?’ Measuring the impact of patient and public involvement in research

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          Abstract

          Abstract

          Much of the current debate around the impact of patient/public involvement on research focuses on the lack of empirical data. While a number of systematic literature reviews have reported the various ways in which involvement makes a difference to research and the people involved, this evidence has been criticised as being weak and anecdotal. It is argued that robust evidence is still required. This review reflects on the use of quantitative approaches to evaluating impact. It concludes that the statistical evidence is weakened by not paying sufficient attention to the context in which involvement takes place and the way it is carried out. However, if scientific (systematic, quantitative, empirical) approaches are designed in a way to take these factors into account, they might not generate knowledge that is useful beyond the original context. Such approaches might not therefore enhance our understanding of when, why and how involvement makes a difference. In the context of individual research projects where researchers collaborate with patients/the public, researchers often acquire ‘new’ knowledge about life with a health condition. This new understanding can be described as experiential knowledge—‘knowledge in context’—that researchers gain through direct experience of working with patients/the public. On this basis, researchers’ accounts of their experience potentially provide a source of insight and learning to influence others, in the same way that the patient experience helps to shape research. These accounts could be improved by increasing the detail provided about context and mechanism. One of the most important contextual factors that influence the outcome of involvement is the researchers themselves and the skills, assumptions, values and priorities they start with. At the beginning of any research project, the researchers ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ until they involve patients/the public. This means that the impact of involvement within any particular project is somewhat unpredictable. The answer to the question ‘Is involvement worth doing?’ will always be ‘It depends’. Further exploration of the contextual and mechanistic factors which influence outcomes could give a stronger steer to researchers but may never accurately predict any specific impact.

          Plain English summary

          In recent years, there has been considerable interest in finding out what difference patient and public involvement makes to research projects. The evidence published so far has been criticised for being weak and anecdotal. Some people argue we need robust evidence of impact from scientific studies of involvement. In this review, I consider examples of where impact has been measured using statistical methods. I conclude that the statistical evidence is weak, if the studies do not consider the context in which involvement takes place and the way that it is done. Studies designed to take this into account give us more confidence that the involvement did make a difference to that particular project. They do not tell us whether the same impact will occur in the same way in other projects and therefore have limited value. Researchers gain an understanding of involvement through their direct experience of working with patients and the public. This is ‘knowledge in context’ or ‘insight’ gained in the same way that patients gain expertise through their direct experience of a health condition. This means that detailed accounts of involvement from researchers already provide valuable learning to others, in the same way that patients’ insights help shape research. However, the impact of involvement will always be somewhat unpredictable, because at the start of any project researchers ‘don’t know what they don’t know’—they do not know precisely what problems they might anticipate, until the patients/public tell them.

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          Most cited references 14

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          Public involvement at the design stage of primary health research: a narrative review of case examples.

          To review published examples of public involvement in research design, to synthesise the contributions made by members of the public, as well as the identified barriers, tensions and facilitating strategies. Systematic literature search and narrative review. Seven papers were identified covering the following topics: breast-feeding, antiretroviral and nutrition interventions; paediatric resuscitation; exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy; hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer; stroke; and parents' experiences of having a pre-term baby. Six papers reported public involvement in the development of a clinical trial, while one reported public involvement in the development of a mixed methods study. Group meetings were the most common method of public involvement. Contributions that members of the public made to research design were: review of consent procedures and patient information sheets; outcome suggestions; review of acceptability of data collection procedures; and recommendations on the timing of potential participants into the study and the timing of follow-up. Numerous barriers, tensions and facilitating strategies were identified. The issues raised here should assist researchers in developing research proposals with members of the public. Substantive and methodological directions for further research on the impact of public involvement in research design are set out. Copyright 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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            Users' guides to the medical literature. IX. A method for grading health care recommendations. Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group.

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              Exploring perceived barriers, drivers, impacts and the need for evaluation of public involvement in health and social care research: a modified Delphi study

              Objective To explore areas of consensus and conflict in relation to perceived public involvement (PI) barriers and drivers, perceived impacts of PI and ways of evaluating PI approaches in health and social care research. Background Internationally and within the UK the recognition of potential benefits of PI in health and social care research is gathering momentum and PI is increasingly identified by organisations as a prerequisite for funding. However, there is relatively little examination of the impacts of PI and how those impacts might be measured. Design Mixed method, three-phase, modified Delphi technique, conducted as part of a larger MRC multiphase project. Sample Clinical and non-clinical academics, members of the public, research managers, commissioners and funders. Findings This study found high levels of consensus about the most important barriers and drivers to PI. There was acknowledgement that tokenism was common in relation to PI; and strong support for the view that demonstrating the impacts and value of PI was made more difficult by tokenistic practice. PI was seen as having intrinsic value; nonetheless, there was clear support for the importance of evaluating its impact. Research team cohesion and appropriate resources were considered essential to effective PI implementation. Panellists agreed that PI can be challenging, but can be facilitated by clear guidance, together with models of good practice and measurable standards. Conclusions This study is the first to present empirical evidence of the opinions voiced by key stakeholders on areas of consensus and conflict in relation to perceived PI barriers and drivers, perceived impacts of PI and the need to evaluate PI. As such it further contributes to debate around best practice in PI, the potential for tokenism and how best to evaluate the impacts of PI. These findings have been used in the development of the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework (PiiAF), an online resource which offers guidance to researchers and members of the public involved in the PI process.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Kristina@twocanassociates.co.uk
                Journal
                Res Involv Engagem
                Res Involv Engagem
                Research Involvement and Engagement
                BioMed Central (London )
                2056-7529
                31 July 2015
                31 July 2015
                2015
                : 1
                Affiliations
                TwoCan Associates, Wallace House, 45 Portland Road, Hove, BN3 5DQ UK
                Article
                8
                10.1186/s40900-015-0008-5
                5598089
                © Staley. 2015

                This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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                © The Author(s) 2015

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