Reflecting on today's  (13 July) Researcher's Week presentations, that covered co-production and public and community involvement and engagement, Nadia Brookes, ARC KSS Co-production Theme Lead, shares her personal experiences and journey of co-production.

Co-production: A personal journey - by Nadia Brookes, ARC KSS Co-production Theme Lead

I’ve been involved in health and social care research for more than 20 years, in the NHS, central and local government, at a not-for-profit and finally a university. I chase the research money and write journal articles, but if you choose to do research in the area of health and social care then at the same time surely, it’s all about the people.

My first experience of involving people in research was through Patient Public Involvement (PPI) within the NHS. They had already started to involve the public in service development and then the Research Governance Framework was introduced which ‘suggested’ involving patients and the public in research, mainly for transparency purposes. Around that time, PPI also became part of NHS organisation star ratings, and there’s nothing like being measured to focus the minds of senior managers and I was tasked with sorting this out for research.

I worked at a teaching hospital, but it was also a district general hospital to a local community. Most of the people who got involved after an advertising campaign through GP surgeries, shopping centres, libraries and hospital events wanted to ‘give something back’. Some people’s relatives had been cared for and died there, some had received treatment there themselves and wanted to help. I may not remember the names, but after all these years I still remember the people.

Fast forward to 2015 and Going the Extra Mile, a stock-take of public involvement in the National Institute for Health Research (which funds most of our research), recommended co-production as a starting point to evolve and improve public involvement in research. Now working in a University it was on the radar, but not a focus. For one of our research projects, we had tried to create a team of equals to plan, conduct and disseminate the research. A couple of members of the team, one with lived experience of receiving support and their carer, were running a workshop on co-production at a social care conference and asked if they could use the project as an example. Was that what we were doing? Yes I suppose it was, but in an imperfect way. I decided to try to build on that experience and improve on it where and when I could.

One thing I have learned is that, if you don’t involve those managers, practitioners and most importantly the public in the research you do, the things you find, the recommendations you make, won’t be adopted at all or maybe in ways that weren’t intended. This is especially important for the ARC where implementation of research is a central goal. But, although it is sometimes pitched as ‘them’ and ‘us’, let’s not forget we’re all ‘the public’ and likely to use health and social care services ourselves at some time in our lives. From that side of the coin, don’t you think you would have a valuable contribution to make?



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