Case study: learning from West Midlands: strengthening regional infrastructure for public involvement in health and care research


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  • Involvement good practice

Resource type:

  • Case study


  • Magdalena Skrybant, Steven Blackburn, Crowe Associates- Sally Crowe and Bec Hanley

Publication date:

  • 21st June 2023

Date added to Learning for Involvement:

  • 21st June 2023

Last year, organisations from across the West Midlands came together to reflect and plan how they can work ‘better together’ to involve patients and the public in health and social care research. Find out what they did, and what they learnt.

What’s the issue?

  • The West Midlands has a regional network for Public Involvement and Lay Accountability in Research (PILAR), which builds on strong traditions of involving the public meaningfully in health and care research.
  • From March 2022 to July 2022, organisations from across the West Midlands came together to reflect and plan how they can work ‘better together’ to involve patients and the public in health and social care research. 

Key objectives for the project included:

  1. To better understand the current capacity and infrastructure for supporting and delivering Public Involvement in the West Midlands.  
  2. To identify the key components that will improve collaborative working in the region.  
  3. To co-develop a PILAR Vision and Strategic Objectives for a strong regional infrastructure to enable collaborative working in the West Midlands. Delivering this Vision will facilitate more efficient and simpler pathways to involvement, which can lead to more effective engagement and participation. 
  4. To share PILAR’s Vision and Strategic Objectives with senior research leaders and provide an opportunity for them to consider what they can do individually and collectively.  

What did you do?

The project involved three separate-but-linked activities. These were:  

  1. A scoping survey to better understand organisations represented in PILAR and their approaches to public involvement in health and care research.
  2. A Co-Design Workshop with PILAR members, including public contributors, to develop a vision for a strong and co-ordinated regional infrastructure for public involvement in the West Midlands. 
  3. A Learn and Build Together event, where PILAR members shared their vision with Senior Research Leaders and began to plan how key objectives could be taken forward to achieve the vision.  

What happened?

  • 23 organisations in the West Midlands completed the scoping survey (co-developed with PILAR members) – Objectives 1 & 2.
  • 28 participants, including 13 public contributors, attended a 3.5 hour Co-Design Workshop on 30 March 2023. The workshop developed a renewed PILAR vision and eight actions to contribute to and support the vision – Objective 3. 
  • 13 senior research leaders from the West Midlands attended the ‘Learn and Build Together’ event on 13 June 2022. The session had two parts. 

Part One: PILAR members developed an action plan for four actions deemed to be most important. 

Part Two: PILAR members shared the renewed vision and action plans before a facilitated discussion to elicit feedback and comments from participants. 

Following the discussions, key recommendations for PILAR were co-developed by PILAR/Crowe Associates – Objective 4.

Following the completion of the project:

  • PILAR co-chairs, M Skrybant and S Blackburn, presented the recommendations to the regional One-NIHR forum (September 2022)
  • PILAR members have discussed the recommendations and identified priority actions in meetings in September and December 2022 and March 2023. Task/Finish groups comprised of PILAR members are taking actions forwards (four actions in the first phase). 
  • PILAR co-chairs have applied and been successful in securing additional resource to work towards achieving PILAR’s Strategic Vision. 

What could other people take from this?

Key reflections from this project are recorded below: 

Positive features of the project  

  • Funding for this specific initiative provided resources to support dedicated time and space to reflect on regional infrastructure for public involvement in the West Midlands. 
  • Securing expert facilitators with experience in public involvement to deliver workshops and provide  support and guidance throughout the project. 
  • A good response rate to the survey and flexibility in deadlines.  
  • Good engagement from PILAR members and public contributors – lots of people were involved in planning the events, joined the events and took part. 
  • Additional opportunities for PILAR members to collaborate on different activities and gain skills. 
  • Great engagement of senior research leaders in the ‘Learn and Build Together’ event, demonstrating enthusiasm and organisational support for public involvement in the West Midlands.  
  • The timing of the funding aligned to coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to changing landscape for public involvement in research.  

Less successful features of the project 

  • Having the two sessions on 13 June 2022 immediately following each other – this meant there was limited time following the action planning to refine presentations for the senior research leaders and consider how elements of the individual actions aligned with each other. However, this has been addressed in post workshop review. 
  • Unexpected senior research leaders joining Workshop 2 – needing to get the results of the Action Planning to them rapidly in real time.   
  • Restricted budget for this initiative did not allow sufficient time to prepare, engage with a broader range of stakeholders. Plus, limited time to deliver all the activities. If repeated elsewhere, more resources are required to support this activity over longer period. 
  • With an absence of dedicated resource regionally for public involvement, PILAR members had to coordinate activities in addition to existing workloads. 

Are there any resources/outputs?

A summary report was completed. This includes PILAR’s vision and strategic objectives and key recommendations from the Project. 

The report will be published on PILAR’s website. The website will also include updates on progress towards achieving PILAR’s objectives. [Link to follow]

What’s next?

Together with community partners, Birmingham Voluntary Services Council, M Skrybant/S Blackburn co-led a successful application to NIHR Clinical Research Network West Midlands Improvement and Innovation scheme. The PILAR objectives, to enable more regional collaboration developed during the Co-Design Workshop (March 2022), provided the foundation for the funding proposal. 

Funding will support the initial development of an NIHR West Midlands Community Engagement and Involvement Hub for Health and Social Care. This includes funding to support work linked directly to PILAR’s strategic objectives:

  1. Regional coordinator roles based both at University of Birmingham and at Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (Linked to Strategic Action 4)
  2. Initial design/development of a PILAR knowledge sharing online portal – two of PILAR’s strategic actions. The work will continue during 2023/24 (Linked to Strategic Action 3). 

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