The Reaching Out programme was launched by INVOLVE and the Research Design Service (RDS) intended to support new or improved research partnerships and broadened involvement in research. Four projects were supported RDS North East North Cumbria (NENC), RDS South Central (SC) and RDS Yorkshire and Humber; RDS East of England (EoE).
Each Reaching Out project sought to explore new public involvement and engagement relationships, and new or more effective approaches to building relationships, within communities in the RDS localities. The emphasis is on parts of the community who are not usually, or consistently, involved in health, social care and public health research. The INVOLVE Report refer to these groups as “seldom heard” groups or communities.
The groups we worked with here in North East and North Cumbria:-
- Rural Communities including Young People
- Pregnant women
- Mental Health Groups
- Working People
- BAME Communities
- Vulnerable young people
The key messages identified below are relevant for those seeking to increase diversity in their public engagement and PPI work. Messages are based on cross-cutting themes emerging from the evaluation of three of the four Reaching Out projects.
1. Many barriers to engaging seldom heard communities lie within health and social care organisations and institutions themselves
Suggestion: Explore which barriers can be addressed within health research organisations such as greater Continuing Professional Development (CPD) support for PPI staff, continue to fund Reaching Out style projects as a means to overcoming barriers and prompting change in the short to mid-term
2. The role of intermediaries was essential in enabling Reaching Out projects to engage with seldom heard communities
Suggestion: The use of intermediaries should form a key part of engagement strategies; greater understanding of potential roles and how to work together will strengthen collaboration.
3. Seldom heard communities are not homogenous and require highly focused engagement strategies
Suggestion: Engagement activities need to consider the appropriate level of specificity for groups, adopting broader or more focused approaches in response to feedback
4. Reciprocity, identifying shared interests and time are essential components to building sustainable relationships with community partners
Suggestion: Greater understanding of the nature, extent and timeframe of work required to build sustainable relationships is needed across NIHR organisations in order that they can effectively support it
5. Ongoing community engagement work lays the foundations for the involvement of the public in research
Suggestion: The distinction between engagement and PPI is not important
“As a Zimbabwean who has lived in the UK for 17 years, l was very surprised and honoured to take part in health discussion that specifically focused on the lived experiences of BAME women.
I was surprised to be asked to take part because people who make decisions that affect us rarely set out to engage with our communities but rather put a label of “hard to reach”, which l do not agree with, to me this shows that they do not care about our opinions or think we are not competent enough to understand or take part.
Being part of this discussion gave me an insight into how resilient and eager to contribute the attendees were, I really enjoyed the discussions there were open and informative, the group was very diverse and this meant the conversation was very rich.
I felt honoured because someone thought my views mattered and this feeling gave me confidence to share my experience.
To me it is important for migrant communities to be included in research as their experts in their own lives and their beliefs and views have to be taken into consideration in planning, implementing and research”.