Top tips for carrying out PPI activities during COVID-19

During this current COVID-19 pandemic measures taken by the government to limit the spread of the virus mean people must stay at home as much as possible, and limit contact with others (see the Gov.uk website). We are all having to adapt quickly, and change the ways in which we are working, and this is also true of people undertaking and participating in public involvement activities. Despite this rapidly changing context for health and social care research funding streams remain strongly committed to public involvement, and the NIHR have agreed 8 new commitments for public involvement during the pandemic which are aligned to the UK standards for public involvement. Additionally we have prepared some TOP TIPS designed to help researchers who are in the process of applying for grants, consider how to ensure they can continue to collaborate with public representatives in a meaningful way during these challenging and exceptional times.

  • Identifying PPI representatives:Utilise online sources or known contacts to identify PPI representatives. You may wish to contact a charity or support group via phone or email and request they disseminate some information regarding your project to their contacts. You might also look into online forums or try People in Research (peopleinresearch.org). It is possible that charities will be particularly busy at this time, which may slow down response time.
  • How to ‘meet’: Meeting face to face will not be possible because of COVID-19, however there are other means of contacting people. Please consider what is most appropriate for the individual/s you are working with (and ask them their preference). One to one phone calls may work best for those with limited access to the internet, or for more in depth discussions. Teleconferences could also be an option, if a group discussion would be helpful but internet access is a challenge. Most universities/trusts have free use of BT’s conferencing for the public sector – please enquire with your local administrator if you have access to this service. Alternatively you might consider one of the many video conferencing options available, such as Zoom, Skype, hangout and Gotomeeting.
  • Facilitating a video conference PPI session: Skype/Zoom etc are not a replacement for face to face and need strong chairing. Establish clear ground rules from the offset, and ensure you provide opportunities for everyone to speak. Small points like “please keep your microphone muted if you’re not speaking” helps sound quality, and keeping participant numbers manageable will ensure all contributors are able to contribute fully. If not everyone has access to a video, it may be helpful for contributors to say who they are before they speak. For more guidance on chairing a videoconference please see this document produced by SPCR WM
  • Consider other ways of communicating:Using social media or whatsapp may be another way for a PPI group to stay in touch and engaged. Having a space for sharing info, resources, thoughts and friendly chat (as well as a space for more formal feedback) will help promote the supportive and friendly aspects of PPI, which otherwise may be lost with a lack of face to face meetings.
  • Payment: check with your finance department before undertaking any PPI work that your representatives will still be able to be paid (in the absence of being able to sign claims forms), and whether any alternative process needs to be followed. If payment is not possible, consider alternative methods such as online vouchers.
  • Be mindful of people’s wider responsibilities: Your PPI representatives may well have additional responsibilities during these times, including caring for children or vulnerable adults, or shopping for neighbours. Try to give people plenty of time and reasonable timelines (except in exceptional circumstances for example COVID-19 related projects). Allow flexibility in your timelines to accommodate people’s changing circumstances, caring responsibilities or illness. For COVID-19 related projects, consider whether your PPI representative is able to work with you on tight timescales. Discuss this with them and ensure they fully understand any commitment and have adequate capacity.
  • Co-design and co-production: This may be an additional challenge during these times, as this close working relationship may be harder to sustain virtually and with competing priorities. Discuss this with your PPI partner, and consider measures you are taking with other colleagues to continue working effectively. Adapting your working methods will be important, as will planning and ensuring effective communication. New resources and guidance is emerging and people are sharing ideas and resources constantly. If you are hoping to carry out co-production or co-design, then we recommend speaking with your RDS PPI advisor who can share with you the latest information.