AIMS AND METHOD: We aimed to introduce mental health service users, carers and workers to working as research partners with an academic unit, and provide training to facilitate participation. We achieved this by running workshops covering different stages of the research process.
RESULTS: Service users, carers and workers attended the workshops, although carers were underrepresented. Feedback was generally positive, and some participants have since become involved as researchers with projects at the Academic Unit.
DISCUSSION: Detailed planning was crucial for deciding the course content, recruiting participants, responding to participant feedback and ensuring future research opportunities were available.
The involvement of service users and carers in health services research is increasingly expected (Department of Health, 2001). Service users, carers, academics and health professionals are recognised as having potentially different perspectives to contribute (Townend & Braithwaite, 2002). To avoid tokenism, and allow different parties to contribute as equal partners, all those involved need knowledge of the research process. The Academic Unit of Psychiatry at the University of Leeds held a series of workshops to provide research training and to introduce mental health service users, carers and workers to the idea of partnership research.
Public involvement in research can take place at a number of levels, reflecting both the degree of involvement and the philosophy behind it. This has been described as a continuum - from consultation (lowest level of involvement, no sharing of power in decision-making), through collaboration (ongoing involvement, active sharing of power in decision-making), to user-controlled research (highest level of involvement, users have decision-making power) (Faulkner, 2004; INVOLVE, 2004). The workshops had a clearly stated aim of developing collaborative research. In particular, the Academic Unit wished to build capacity for user involvement in its own research, by developing unit staff in partnership working as well as by providing research expertise to potential partners.