Public involvement: Assessing impact through a realist evaluation

Professor David Evans and colleagues in the Centre for Health and Clinical Research and at the University of Coventry are working to develop the evidence on what works in public involvement in research.

This project, funded by the NIHR Health Services Research programme and INVOLVE, is concerned with finding the factors that enable members of the public (e.g. patients, service users, carers, families) to effectively contribute to and influence health-related research. A useful way of identifying the relevant factors (called realist evaluation) suggested by Pawson and Tilley (1997; 2008) is to study the relationship between the context (e.g. the history of institutional support for involvement in a research organisation), the mechanisms that support public involvement (e.g. training or mentoring) and the desired effects or outcomes (e.g. improved research design).

We are undertaking an 18 month study to identify regularities (consistent patterns) of context, mechanism and outcome (CMO) in public involvement in research. We have recruited eight case studies where there is diversity in terms of the people involved (young people and families with children as well as adults), the forms of public involvement and the type and scale of the research. A unique aspect of our project is that we have four members of the public working as ‘research partners’ who are full members of the project team as co-applicants and will be involved in data collection and analysis. We intend to reflect on our own experience of involving the public in research in our project as well as in our case studies. The project is currently ongoing and is due to report in March 2013.

For more information contact Dr Andy Gibson.

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