The role of Public Advisers in health research

Posted on: 18 April 2023 by Dr Kerry Hanna in April 2023 posts

Dr Kerry Hanna is a Lecturer in Orthoptics in the School of Health Sciences and her research focusses on health inequalities. Here she discusses the vital role public advisers play in her research.

Pandemic research with vulnerable households

From 2020-2023, I led a sub-study of the COVID-LIV B work, which explored how households and vulnerable groups perceived the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. This work involved two sets of semi-structured interviews, four weeks apart, with adults living in households in the Liverpool City Region. At the follow-up interview, participants were given the option of using ‘photo-elicitation’ to guide the discussion.

For this work, we had a range of public advisers (PAs) from the North West Coast ARC on the research team, as our PAs had first-hand experience of living in the communities, and experiencing the impacts of the pandemic in more ways than the academic authors alone. Three PAs were involved in all aspects of this sub-study, which consisted of co-production of documents (including the topic guides), transcript coding, group discussion about interpretation and thematic categorisation (whereby themes were conceptualised), and co-authorship of research outputs.

The PAs were closely supported in undertaking qualitative analysis. To do this, I drew upon my undergraduate teaching (where I lead on the module ‘Interpreting the evidence; Research methods and Statistics’) and provided formal training in coding and interpretation of the data.  It was important to declare all authors’ roles within the team, including our PAs, when reporting on reflexivity, as this must be considered when reporting on similarities and differences among the research participants. Ensuring our PAs were involved in all parts of this project allowed us to develop findings which were authentic to the current situation of the pandemic at that time, and enhanced the quality and rigour of the research.

This work has recently been accepted for publication in BMC Public Health. 

Collaborative research into dementia care

I have also been involved in multiple projects researching inequalities in accessing care and support for people living with dementia and their carers. PAs have been involved in all aspects of these projects, and provide rich insight to the challenges of caring for a person / living with dementia. The PAs who work on this research not only help with grant applications, study documents and research team discussion, but are further trained and supported in coding qualitative research transcripts, ensuring their experiences play a key role in our outputs. The PAs are named as authors on all research outputs, highlighting the key role they play in supporting the development of the research findings. This research is led by Dr Clarissa Giebel and a range of recent publications can be found here.

Most recently, we have been working on a project funded by the Wellcome Trust, to develop a boardgame which conveys the authentic dementia care pathway. Through this work, it has been imperative to include a wide range of public involvement at all stages of the development, as the stories and experiences of those who have accessed dementia care and support will create the game.

In addition to the workshop activities undertaken to develop the first prototypes of the boardgame, it was important to evaluate our PA involvement as part of this work. To do this, individual interviews were conducted with a range of PAs, to gauge their experience of participating in the project, and to evaluate whether the methods used were inclusive and suitable for this group.

We hope to present the findings from this work in the near future, however, please follow the Liverpool Dementia and Ageing Research Forum for upcoming events where information will be shared.