I recently attended the national away day for the Research Design Service (RDS) public involvement leads. Thank you to the RDS for having me! It was lovely to catch up with people and also meet some new colleagues. I was asked to lead a workshop on innovative approaches to public involvement, and I used the opportunity to present some examples from my fellowship. It was really useful to get an external perspective on my work. It’s helped me to think through how best to share my learning, particularly with people who have never experienced creative research projects. Here are my reflections on the workshop…
A bit of background
It’s probably helpful if I include some context about the RDS. The RDS is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). They offer support for researchers who are developing funding applications. Some RDS advisers specialise in public involvement with research. Many of these advisers also do work to support public involvement more generally, for example developing resources.
I presented a series of examples to the group. All the examples were real projects which used art to start conversations about health. I then asked the group to consider the pros and cons of these creative approaches. I also asked people to think about how we might encourage researchers to take on more innovative involvement work. If you would like to know more about the examples that I presented, then follow the links at the bottom of this post.
Do we need more creativity?
I believe that we do need more creativity within public involvement, and my workshop participants seemed to agree. Not everyone will feel comfortable in formal research environments (e.g. committees). If we want to engage with a diverse range of people, then it makes sense to use a diverse range of techniques. There is also a potential power imbalance when activities are familiar to researchers but new to their collaborators. Arts-based projects can help to address that power imbalance, as they are of often new to everyone involved.
“Just a fantastic day, I really enjoyed it…it was doing things in a fun, interesting way, which I think got more out of people somehow. Rather than just sitting there having a normal… discussion or reading through things and emailing comments.”
Quote from a member of the public involved in one of my arts-based workshops
Whilst the group identified many benefits, they also highlighted some important challenges.
- Funding – Research budgets are already stretched and the group felt unsure about whether health research funders (e.g. NIHR) would be willing to fund more expensive involvement. I think we need to do some work with funders to better understand what they expect, and how much they are willing to pay.
- Skills – Health researchers may lack the skills / confidence to develop and facilitate arts-based work. This could be addressed via training or by partnering with practitioners / organisations who have do the skills and experience.
- Knowing what is appropriate – Researchers may not know what approaches are appropriate in which context. How can we help them make those decisions?
What resources / support would help researchers?
- A bank of examples (I’ve made a start on this here).
- Testimonies from researchers who have tried more creative approaches.
- Facilitation training
- Some sort of decision tool which helps researchers to identify when arts-based involvement is appropriate, which techniques work in which context, and when to partner with arts practitioners. More thoughts on this here.
If you have any other ideas, or would like to work with me to develop resources for researchers, then please get in touch. Thanks!
See my creative facilitation page for some example projects / approaches.