Information for Researchers

You may come across different terms that are used to describe public involvement, such as patient and public involvement (PPI), service user involvement, lay involvement or consumer involvement.

Sometimes involvement is incorrectly described as engagement or participation in research.

  • Involvement in research refers to an active partnership between members of the public and researchers. This means that members of the public work alongside the research team and are actively involved in contributing to the research process as advisers and possibly as co-researchers.
  • Engagement is where information and knowledge about research is provided and disseminated to or by the public.
  • Participation refers to the process of people taking part in the research study. These three activities – involvement, engagement and participation are different but are also linked and complement each other.

Another common mistake is to confuse Patient and Public Involvement in research and qualitative research. They are two very different activities. In short, Patient and Public Involvement in research is as we have described above and qualitative research is a research methodology employed in studies with research participants.

Why is public involvement in research important?

The contributions of patients can be extremely valuable, providing alternative views from those of the research team or NHS staff. Patients are able to make judgements based on their understanding of their condition and may have different aspirations and thoughts about health outcomes that health care professionals and researchers may not have considered. Research funders, such as the NIHR, now require PPI as a condition of funding.

What are the benefits of public involvement?

Involving the public in your research will help you to improve the quality of the research by making it relevant and timely. A study by King’s College London indicates that involving the public in the design and implementation of research programmes increases the likelihood of studies recruiting to target. The public can also help you to disseminate the findings to a wider audience.

Who are public involvement representatives?

They can be anyone who uses or has used health or social care services such as carers, patients, potential patients, organisations who represent patients and carers, patient support groups, charities that represent specific health conditions and individuals with an interest in the topic being researched.

Ways that the public can be involved in your research?

Members of the public should be involved in the research at the earliest stages and can be involved in a whole range of research activities. These include helping to design the research and develop the research question, applying for funding and ethical approval, sitting on advisory groups, carrying out the analysis of data and disseminating the research findings. Use the research cycle below (also found in the NIHR PPI Pocket Handbook) to help you consider how members of the public can become involved with your research.

You do not need to undertake all the activities described to have suitable, relevant and good quality public involvement within your project. You should try and undertake the activities of most relevance to your research project and to the patients and public that you actively involve.

How can the RDS help you with Public Involvement

At the RDS South Central we have specialist PPI advisers who can help you identify patient and public to be involved in your research and can help you plan your public involvement strategy to be included in your grant application. We also have some funds available that researchers can apply for to help them with their pre-submission public involvement activities. If you are interested in applying for a Public Involvement Fund (PIF) from the RDS SC then please submit a request for support from the RDS here.