Should it be an oath? A raising of the INVOLVE flag outside labs and hospitals each morning? A hymn perhaps? Or something to be carried on your person like an equity card?
Should there be a test? With questions such as how much public money is spent on health research each year? Or a vetting procedure? Maybe a metaphorical frisking (does that make sense?) would be easier and less costly? It certainly sounds a lot more fun.
These and other important matters of state have been preoccupying me of late. In part because identity, recognition and a sense of belonging have quickly risen to the surface as concerns of the public involvement community over recent years. Hands up, for instance, who thinks we are ill-served by some of our national and non disease specific so-called patient representative organisations for instance? (Both my hands are up).
But, more so, because in the health research world INVOLVE is leading a working group to tackle the issue of learning and development in public involvement. This is not a working group leading up to a report. This is group working to produce some tools for others to use. My erstwhile colleague and group member, Derek Stewart, has already started a discussion group on LinkedIn . INVOLVE’s web pages on our work will soon be live. 2013 is going to be a busy year on this front I can tell and I am truly excited about it.
Anyway, I’ve been mulling over a couple of things. In a sentence I think I think that: ‘there should be no bar to involvement, but we should set a high bar for involvement.’ And this applies to researchers as well as to patients and the public.
What do I mean? Well, we should be open and inclusive to newcomers to public involvement for that is how we grow our movement. But it doesn’t mean we can not set expectations around values and ground rules just as we do at the start of every INVOLVE meeting for instance. We want our citizens to be good citizens surely?
And that’s where the citizenship test idea came from. Yes, it’s a joke. And yet it’s also not a joke. What could we give every ‘entrant’ to public involvement to help them belong. How do we ensure they are able to contribute as much as they are willing and able?
Similarly, for those fulfilling formal public involvement roles. Or for researchers as they advance in their careers. We should be setting the bar ever higher for the skills and competences that they should be exhibiting when it comes to public involvement in research. To the very top and certainly future leaders of the NIHR and MRC.
And we should in time be appraising and supervising employees based on how they demonstrate these skills. It may not please some. But the time has come to begin to cultivate a cohesive workforce with clear leaders and leadership whose public service is to help deliver ever better public involvement in research organisations. Just as much as it is our task to nurture a wider people in research movement.
Ensuring that patients and the public are valued by and feel able to add value to organisations is how we future proof health research in the public interest. And it begins with how we support people throughout their journey or career path in research. For that reason I think what we do in 2013 in learning and development could be the start of something very big.
Run it up the flagpole .