How to give your public involvement in research a Spring clean? And the value of ‘stuff.’ 

We have all become obsessed with strategies and plans of one sort or another don’t you think? Thinking them, making them, writing them, hiding behind them. 

And no sooner than a strategy is in place than some bright spark (like a bloody National Director) suggests a strategic review or the like? 

A review of nothing really, because everyone has barely had any time to  make a cup of tea let alone do the work. And yes, a cup of tea should always come before work since you are asking. Political parties to note. 

In the good old days (I can say things like that now I’m 50) we just used to do stuff, learn from it, and do more stuff. Never mind strategy, ‘stuff’ was the stuff of life. It is vastly underrated now. I want more people to do a lot more stuff. 

People often ask me how they should go about writing their public involvement strategy. But sometimes the best thing you can do early on is NOT try to write a strategy. No, the best thing you can do is get everyone in a room – patients, carers, researchers and health professionals – and agree the one thing that you could all work together on making better – the visibility of research in your hospital, or the fact no one is being told the results of research, or you need some young people to help think about some studies you want to do.

Then do it, today, now! Focus all your efforts on it. As the security announcement say in London stations at the moment – ‘See it. Say it. Sort it.’ 

Call it public involvement survival. After all, if we were stuck in the jungle with night falling we’d be focusing on building a fire and shelter. Not planning the route out under dark. That can wait until you’re safe. By which time you will have also learnt a lot more about eachother’s skills and experience. Which is invaluable. 

Strategies can wait their turn. 

However, that said, some of us do have strategies we have to live with. From time to time they will need a bit of updating. But, again, in my view you don’t have to have a full-blown review.  Just getting people together for a day or even half-a-day to think and reflect in a concentrated way is often as effective if not more so than an all bells and whistles evaluation. Call it a Spring Clean if you like. It used to be called developing and trusting your instincts. 

Instincts are another commodity badly underrated. And good instincts are based on experience. Bringing that experience to bear on what you are doing is worth a thousand hours of any strategy writing in a room on your own. 

So, here goes, as partof your annual Spring Clean you might want to ask those in the room if they:

– Feel your priorities are the right ones? After all, a lot might have changed for the  organisation to make them feel more or less appropriate.

– Know what people are saying about your public involvement. Is it good or bad? And why? If you can’t answer the question is there a way to collect this information from now on?

– If they would keep one thing and discard another from the last 12 months what would it be? What’s their hope for the future?

– Could talk about one recent news article or story about research which they found interesting. It could be national or local? Why did they find it interesting? Sharing knowledge across a group like this can give it a real sense of energy? 

– Are there examples of where public involvement has already made a difference? I bet there are? Is anyone writing this down? If not, why not? 

– Are you in touch with the people you need to be – in the community, across the institution? Whose going to make it happen if it’s not already? 

– Do you need more help? If you stress-tested your public involvement like the banks do their ‘capital’ where might the weaknesss lie? Do you need more public contributors ? Or some further paid help? Or simple access a few hours of someone’s time who had the skills and right experience for the task in hand? 

A bit of tidying never hurt anyone. But, just remember, doing stuff is what matters.

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