Back to Basics – planning public involvement

As part of my role with the NIHR Research Design Service (RDSYH), I’ve spent many hours helping researchers plan involvement activities. For example helping academics think about how to collaborate with patients. Through this work, and leading my own projects, I’ve developed a set of prompt questions. The questions are designed to help people develop appropriate and meaningful involvement plans. People seem to find the questions helpful, so I’ve decided to share them on here.

This post based on a presentation which I give at RDSYH events and as part of post-graduate teaching. Because of that, the questions are written from the perspective of a researcher setting out on a new project. They are also aimed at people who are fairly new to involvement.

Happy planning!


Ask yourself…

  1. Which aspects of this project would most benefit from another perspective? This question can help you to think about the focus and purpose activities.
  2. Who is best placed to provide that perspective? E.g. patients, carers, young people, advocates, the general public etc. You may work with a mixture of people throughout the life of a project.
  3. What are practicalities of working with that group? E.g. methods of communication, format of activities, timing / location of meetings, facilitation, access needs, support. Talk to people about their needs and about the strengths they bring to a project. Think about building activities around people’s existing strengths.
  4. Do I have the skills to engage with that group? If the answer is no, then work with people who do! There are lots of individuals / organisations who can help you to run engaging and accessible projects.
  5. What will it cost? If you’re not sure how to budget for involvement activities, then take a look at this INVOLVE resource.
  6. What’s in it for them?! Collaborations work best when they are reciprocal, i.e. when all sides are getting something out of the deal! Think about how people will be rewarded and recognised for their contributions.


Image adapted from original by Angus Fraser under CC license
  • One size does not fit all – Activities should be appropriate for people you are working with and the nature of the research.
  • Negotiate people’s roles –  The questions above are designed to help researchers think through involvement ideas and start conversations. They are not meant to help researchers keep control of all activities.
  • Justify your approach – Any researcher should be able to explain why their chosen methodology is appropriate for the question they are trying to answer. They should also be able to justify their approach to involvement.


These prompts are meant to be a practical and simple starting point, rather than a complex academic document. With that in mind, I’d welcome any feedback. Are the questions helpful? Have I missed anything crucial? I’m also thinking about how the questions can be adapted for other groups. For example, could they help communities to think about if / how to engage with the academia?

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