Forget the pyrotechnics it’s all about shopper experience when it comes to public engagement in research

I am on the train to Brighton to attend the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) annual conference.

Whenever I travel this line I always think of that old film they used to show when I was a boy, of London to Brighton in 2 minutes. Such is the age we live in, and the raised expectations that go with it, I suspect my sons would think even that was a bit on the slow side.

Our NHS similarly hurtles on in implementing the changes initiated by the Health and Social Care Act. This week has, and will continue to be for me, a round of conversations with others about how to ‘map’ public involvement and associated activities around engagement and participation against the new structures – CCGs, Healthwatch, Health and Wellbeing Boards. Dust of what you learnt about shifting continental plates in Geography lessons at school and you have some sense of the change. Making sure public involvement does not fall within the gaps is going to take considerable energy – this is no time to ‘duck and cover.’

For some reason last night I was reading Mary Portas’ review of the state of the High Street which was published at the end of last year. It’s a highly readable account of both the issues and the potential solutions. Sifting through the reactions of shop owners and consumers I was struck by the focus on practical measures such as better parking, rather than the gimmicky items that had been proposed. In these difficult times we want to see change that will make a tangible difference rather than things that give us all a momentary high.

That must also be our priority when talking about public engagement and participation as an agenda. And last week’s Guardian Q&A highlighted it further for me. There are some amazing ideas out there but all have hard graft associated with them, more so if they are to be durable. ‘Consumer’ insight is also fundamental that’s why I am pleased to see we have a new NHS Director for Patient Insight and Information in the guise of Tim Kelsy.

I don’t know about you but I never fail to be surprised by the extent to which colleagues interpret engagement and participation in research as a simple exercise; as if it is like turning on the Christmas lights on Regent’s Street in London. Or having some fireworks display.

The fact is that it is more like building a High Street from scratch.

We know the route people will follow through our neighbourhood. But we now need to open shops and eateries that will make them linger. As the crowd goes this will attract more outlets run by other owners. These will offer different products but support the development of our community. We might even have a few charity shops. And we need to make it a simple and easy place to park and visit; to make choices and purchases, to return regularly. But also perhaps to reside there one day and, even better, become involved in making this a better place.

Then maybe the time will be right to turn on those Christmas light and have that fireworks display with the assembled media.

Simon Denegri
NIHR National Director for Public Participation and Engagement in Research Please visit my blog at;

One thought on “Forget the pyrotechnics it’s all about shopper experience when it comes to public engagement in research

  1. This Post hits the nail squarely on the head…full of very important messages and advice. and colorful with it!

    Looking forward to future posts which plot the development of all that is needed to be successful.


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