How embedded is public involvement in mainstream health research in England a decade after policy implementation? A realist evaluation

Patricia Wilson, Elspeth Mathie, Fiona Poland, Julia Keenan, Amanda Howe, Diane Munday, Sally Kendall, Marion Cowe, Sophie Staniszewska, Claire Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives: To explore how embedded patient and public involvement is within mainstream health research following two decades of policy-driven work to underpin health research with patient and public involvement in England. Methods: Realist evaluation using Normalization Process Theory as a programme theory to understand what enabled patient and public involvement to be embedded as normal practice. Data were collected through a national scoping and survey, and qualitative methods to track patient and public involvement processes and impact over time within 22 nationally funded research projects. Results: In research studies that were able to create reciprocal working relationships and to embed patient and public involvement this was contingent on: the purpose of patient and public involvement being clear; public contributors reflecting research end-beneficiaries; researchers understanding the value of patient and public involvement; patient and public involvement opportunities being provided throughout the research and ongoing evaluation of patient and public involvement. Key contested areas included: whether to measure patient and public involvement impact; seeking public contributors to maintain a balance between being research-aware and an outsider standpoint seen as ‘authentically’ lay; scaling-up patient and public involvement embedded within a research infrastructure rather than risk token presence and whether patient and public involvement can have a place within basic science. Conclusions: While patient and public involvement can be well-integrated within all types of research, policy makers should take account of tensions that must be navigated in balancing moral and methodological imperatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Health Services Research and Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2018


  • Health research
  • Patient and public involvement and engagement
  • Realist evaluation


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