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Res Involv Engagem. 2016 Aug 17;2:28. doi: 10.1186/s40900-016-0042-y. eCollection 2016.

Power to the people: To what extent has public involvement in applied health research achieved this?

Author information

1
School of Health & Human Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK.

Abstract

Plain English summary:

Public involvement is required for applied health research funded in the UK. One of the largest funders, the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), makes it clear that it values the knowledge of patients and the public. As a result, there are now many resources to make sure that the public voice is included in decision-making about research. However, there is concern that the public voice still has limited impact on research decision-making. This article asks to what extent has power shifted from the scientific research community to the public? It looks at how much power and impact patients and members of the public have about research by asking: How do the public contribute to deciding which research areas and which research projects should be funded? How do they influence how the research is carried out? The article argues that there is evidence that the public voice is present in research decision-making. However, there is less evidence of a change in the power dynamic between the scientific research community and the public. The public involved in research are not always equal partners. The scientific research community still has the loudest voice and patients and the public do not always feel sufficiently empowered to challenge it.

Abstract:

Public involvement in applied health research is a pre-requisite for funding from many funding bodies. In particular the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) in the UK, clearly states that it values lay knowledge and there is an expectation that members of the public will participate as research partners in research. As a result a large public involvement infrastructure has emerged to facilitate this. However, there is concern that despite the flurry of activity in promoting public involvement, lay knowledge is marginalised and has limited impact on research decision-making. This article asks to what extent has power shifted from the scientific research community to the public? It discusses the meaning of power and models of public involvement and examines the development of public involvement in applied health research. It identifies public involvement in a range of decision-making: identifying priority areas for commissioning research; making decisions about which projects are funded; decisions about details of research design. Whilst there is evidence that the public voice is present in the composition of research proposals submitted to NIHR and in the decision-making about which projects are funded and how they are carried out, there is less evidence of a change in the power dynamic manifest in social relations between the scientific research community and the public. As a result the biomedical model remains dominant and largely unchallenged in research decision-making.

KEYWORDS:

Lay knowledge; Power; Public involvement; Research

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