Public involvement in research: what sort of Masterchef are you?

It was a miserable York City Centre that I walked through late last night to get to my hotel. All the hopes and anticipation of early evening had dissolved on a football pitch halfway across the world. A dull and sullen murmur was all that was left.

Never mind. We still have Masterchef. Or Celebrity Masterchef as it is currently is on the TV.

It’s a fascinating programme. One of its most interesting elements is how the chefs who reach the final learn and grow through each episode. While those who do not, are undoubtedly good cooks but struggle to consistently meet the many challenges put in front of them. For good reasons and bad.

Fact is there are many sorts of cooks in public involvement:

The desconstructionist (sometimes known as the technician): take any dish or recipe and we will deconstruct it, and serve the components separately on the plate. We start every sentence with: ‘How are you defining..’ We may have lost sight of the goal of serving an edible meal to our guests. But our expertise is invaluable.

The flavour expert: Our taste buds are more sensitive than GCHQ’s monitoring systems. Our palates finely tuned to the fact that public involvement is one of those parts of life where colleagues add but they all too frequently take away too. We know exactly what sort of public involvement will work in any given context.

The soufflé champion; We are the brave ones, undaunted by this infamous Masterchef demon that has pushed many others over the edge. We’d rather try our best to make public involvement succeed in impossible situations, and fail, than walk away. More often than not we succeed where others told us we wouldn’t. And yes we do very much have sift centres.

The fusionist: our day is made up of looking for connections: what if we put this and this together? We are chemists, alchemists. But sometimes our ever open mind means we can stray too far. However, there’ll always be a home waiting for us in public involvement.

The square plater: I am afraid that our culinary abilities are sometimes shrouded in a propensity for the trendy and fashionable. There’s nothing wrong in round plates y’know. Be yourself is my advice. Or you’ll be a square peg in a round hole.

The stressed chef: we are exhausted, we do too much, our plate is too full. And it shows in the food we serve, which gets less and less edible. Time for a break. Time to let others lead for a while. And sometimes it’s ok to serve just a simple poached egg on toast and not a full Sunday roast.

The innovator: doesn’t matter what ingredients we are given, we can make something of them. No initiative test is beyond us. The result might be surprising, it might even look a bit odd and be a strange colour. Some will accuse you that what you are doing is not public involvement. Perhaps you just think differently. We need you on our side.

The redundant cook: I am afraid we serve the food we like without asking what our guests need and want. No one wants to come to our restaurant any more and it’s not far off going out of business.

The team-player: we don’t care if we are head chef, sous chef or washer upper. Nor are we territorial. It’s about getting the job done and finding the best role for ourselves in making that happen. This kitchen is certainly big enough for the both of us.

The Masterchef: true to our values and principals, we are
collaborative and constructive. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why public involvement in research has come such a long way on the UK.

Have a good weekend.

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