Involving London

Ian Needleman - Public Involvement in Oral Health Research

We believed that the public had an important story to tell with research and designed some studies to help develop this. Initially, we set up a series of focus groups as a consultation process during the writing of a grant application. The questions we wished to share with the participants were;

1. What do you think about our research questions? Are they relevant to you and do you have additional suggestions.
2. What do you think about the methods that we are proposing to use? Are they comprehensible? Do they seem appropriate and are there any aspect6s that we could improve upon or which you have concerns?
3. What do you think about our plans to share (disseminate) the outcomes of the study? Have we identified the most appropriate audiences/interest groups/stakeholders. What do you think about the ways in which we propose to communicate the findings?

Focus groups were set up with a trained facilitator. One of the groups was devoted solely to patients, one to primary care dentists and one to a mix of both patients and dentists; each involving 8-10 participants. Recruitment was straightforward and it seemed that participants relished the opportunity to find out more and to have a say in research. Identifying a time for the sessions was more challenging in being acceptable for all. Each session lasted two hours and we offered an honorarium for taking part and to cover travel expenses. We were very fortunate in securing funding from both the Eastman Fund for Oral Research and Training (EFFORT) and a UCL Beacon Bursary award.

What we leant from these sessions directly impacted on the research proposal and we believe greatly improved its quality and relevance. Improvements included suggestions for the research setting, additional outcomes, additional approaches to the evaluation of the data, stakeholders for inclusion in the advisory group and many creative suggestions for dissemination. At other times, participants reassured us of the priority of the clinical topic for investigation.

It was clear that groups quickly understood the research issues and were happy to discuss and debate them, although patients were a little more reticent initially. The role of the facilitator was key in this process. Whilst separate groups offer some advantages for discussion of technical issues, the mixed groups were perhaps the most informative. The groups of both patients and dentists exposed each to other perspectives with follow-up of emerging issues. Additionally, we felt that this was a valuable experience in public engagement and increased the stated willingness of the individuals to participate in research in the future. This was the start of our PPI activity and has continues with further consultative groups, developing collaborations with patients as co-researchers and other public engagement activities.