Pollard, K., Evans, D., Dalrymple, J., Miers, M., Moule, P. and Thomas, J.
Preconceptions, power and position: researcher reflections on public involvement in research.
British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Group Annual Conference, University of Durham, Durham, UK, 1-3 September 2010.
In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health and many funding bodies require public involvement in health and social care research. However, members of the public are still mostly engaged in research as subjects/participants, or in a limited consultative capacity. Although little has been published about researcher attitudes, it is known that some resist greater public involvement in research, through fears articulated in terms of control and quality maintenance. Including non-professionals and non-academics as full team members invariably impacts on how research is conducted, and demands that researchers ‘do’ research in ways with which they are not necessarily familiar or comfortable. In particular, researchers may need to re-examine constructions of ‘research’ and the researcher role, and the relationship between ‘expert’ (professional/academic) and ‘situated’ (non-professional/academic) knowledge. Over the last two years, the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE) has developed a system through which service users, carers and/or members of the public can actively contribute to the conception, design and conduct of research. This paper presents UWE researchers’ reflections on the impact of public involvement on their role, drawing on their experience across three projects with substantial public input. These include a national evaluation for the Department of Health and a project supported by the Higher Education Innovation Fund. Key aspects of these reflections include researchers’ recognition of their own preconceptions about public involvement in research; their perceptions of academic-public power relationships within the research process; and positions they have adopted with a view to optimising research outputs.
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