Evaluating the impact of public involvement in research – the #PiiAF tool: launch remarks

Fantastic to see so many people gathered in the room and in hyperspace for the launch of the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework (PiiAF).  You can view the prototype website here. A really important piece of work and here are my remarks from the start of the day without the jokes.

Launch of the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework #PiiAF – Friends Meeting House, London, Friday 6th September 2013

Thank you to Jennie Poppay (@Popay100) and her team for asking me to say a few words to open today’s event and put the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework (PiiAF) in context.  10/10 also for thinking of such a memorable title for it by the way y- ou’ll go far in marketing.

And I really am going to say a few words only because, like you, I am eager to learn more about the main act.

Impact reporting

Earlier this week I was helping to write the first draft of NIHR’s annual report for 2012/13.  I’m pleased to say that its first chapter is titled ‘Patients and the Public’ and is all about the different ways the public are involved in what NIHR does.  Reading the rough cut, the first chapter comes across like a great story.  Or should I say stories because there are a number of stories about impact public involvement has had. And lots of facts and figures.  It’s compelling.  It’s exciting.  There’s a real sense of momentum.  As you read it you want to be part of it. 

I know some people are reticent about the agenda around impact; they have a sense that it’s controlling in some way.  But personally I think it’s quite the opposite.  Not being good at reporting impact is going to be our straightjacket as a movement.  Getting better at it is going to be liberating for us and others.


So congratulations to Jennie, the team and all those who helped on produce PiiAF.  Thanks also to the MRC Methodology Research Programme for their support for it.

As I was reviewing PiiAF last night I was struck by a couple of its main strengths. 

The first is the way it combines a framework with supporting guidance and access to further resources which will enable people to tailor it to their own needs.  This flexibility is going to be really important for patients and the public, researchers and others to self-direct such models according to their needs.

Everything we do must be rooted in and with the experiences of patients and the public on the ground.  I sometimes refer to this as earthing our work in the same way that we earth our electricity supply.  Enabling people to plug into such work and in the knowledge that it is well-earthed can give real energy to what they are doing.

The second is the importance given to values.  For some reason people seem to want to denigrate the role of values.  But the best organisations I have worked for are those that have had a real sense of their values.  And over the summer with the Francis report we have seen how positively dangerous to others when an organisation such as the NHS cuts itself adrift from a set of core values.

Space race or space station

I know that Jennie and her colleagues are keen for PiiAF to not just be used but to be built upon, to be strengthened and improved upon by others, that it be a spur to people to add to the evidence base around impact.

That has to be right. 

As some of you know I was on the panel for the awards of the second round of CLAHRCs announced by the Department of Health in the early summer.  Many things struck me about the applications we received.  Not least how many people said they were going to produce the definitive toolkit for measuring the impact of public involvement, the national evaluation framework for all to use.

Course I understand the desire.  I am as competitive as the next person.  But I think we have to remember we are not in the public involvement equivalent of the space race.  In fact isn’t the better way to be building on what each other is doing to create the public involvement equivalent of the space station where we are able to work and learn together, to take the long view of what colleagues are doing?

Strategic challenges

Impact and its reporting is just one of the strategic challenges we need to make headway with, and with some urgency if public involvement is going to be positioned well for the future.

And it’s important in my opinion that we keep the momentum and visibility up that I hope people felt was there going into the summer. From INVOLVE’s work on learning and development to ‘Ok to Ask’ to our new tool for helping people to cost public involvement.  A combination of considered strategy and real, practical tools.  The fact that 40,000 people visit INVOLVE’s website every month indicates the need but also, I hope, that we are all doing something right.

Anticipating what next is going to be the key:

         Growing the community and its influence throughout the system.

         Clarity about the public’s role in improving the nation’s health and wealth as part of NIHR’s growth agenda.

         Funding and resources

         Supporting public involvement colleagues across the new local networks, CLAHRCs, Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) to work together.

         Turning NHS research and its design into real opportunities for the public and patients.

         Thinking through future options for how we strengthen the model of public involvement and our approach within NIHR, and how we determine these.

It is going to be a busy autumn and thanks to Jennie and the PiiAF team for getting us off to the right start.






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