Jenna Jacob: How to get researchers and academics engaged in Public and Patient Involvement work

The aim of this project was to support the expansion of public engagement training within the School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) at UCL. EBPU in collaboration with the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC) and Common Room were commissioned to run a consultation on existing training and consider how to engage hard to reach academics and senior leaders in these activities.

As a team, we have significant experience in facilitating, promoting and advising on how to develop and embed PPI and Public Engagement (PE) in national programmes and initiatives and Common Room is a consultancy with expertise specifically in this area.

In general, many researchers and academics are at different stages of their public engagement and involvement journeys and are unsure of how to successfully carry out the activities involved. What became apparent quite quickly was a lot of confusion about the different terminology used related to PPI. To clarify:

Public engagement is the sharing of information from research with the public, public involvement is “seeking input and advice from people who have relevant expertise in living with the conditions or situations authors are writing about.” (BMJ), while Co-producing a research project is an approach in which researchers, practitioners and the public work together, sharing power and responsibility from the start to the end of the project, including the generation of knowledge” (INVOLVE, 2018).

Our project was focused on Public and Patient Engagement (PPI). We ran the consultation piece of work through workshops and phone interviews with senior researchers and academics. We asked people what they saw as the main challenges and talked through potential facilitators which could be taken forward by the Public Engagement Unit at UCL, but that could also be considered more widely.

To consider how specifically to get senior academics and researchers involved, we also researched methods for behaviour change and have included the findings here. Through this process, we were able to compile a list of challenges and action points.


The key challenges that emerged from the conversations we had fell into five categories:

  • Engaging and working collaboratively with people e.g. Lack skills to navigate complex issues arising; how to get people interested
  • Culture shift e.g. time and resource allocations; general culture shift needed
  • Ethical considerations e.g. not sure if need ethical approval; getting ethics committees to understand the importance of PPI
  • Communication and cross-working e.g. Need to build collaborations; need for information sharing across teams
  • Support and practical solutions e.g. Need example documents; lack of communication about support available.

Action points to gain buy-in

We considered the behavior change literature and compiled a list of useful factors to be considered in order to help encourage senior academics and researchers learn about the importance and benefits of PPI. In summary these were:

  • Consider behaviour change concepts as detailed in the findings (you’ll have to read the report to find out what!)
  • Use techniques to help you “sell” the issue
  • Recognise that senior management’s focus is often on external visibility
  • Mid-career colleagues may be in the most influential position
  • Behaviour is driven by a combination of capability, motivation and opportunity.


The final recommendations in the project report were to:

  1. Provide clarity over the distinctions between public engagement, patient and public involvement, and co-production
  2. Establish in-house support and guidance aimed at all stages of public and patient engagement and involvement
  3. Increase visibility of and/or the communication around the services provided, in particular training, support provided and toolkits
  4. Influence senior academics via the ‘middle management’ (mid-career academics)
  5. Consider if there is scope for facilitation of idea sharing and support across departments
  6. Use behaviour change concepts to address barriers and opportunities in the development of any future training and support e.g. in terms of the COM-B model (which is a model that considers behavior change in view of specifically thinking about how behaviour, opportunities and motivation affect change).

We really enjoyed working on this project and think the findings provide some real tangible things that researchers and others can do to help with their PPI activities.

Full report:

Key links: