All research has to have a public element

 

Why did I want to be a consumer panel member?

I have been a consumer panel member for about two years now and I would not want to give it up, even although I have a busy life. I am a carer for my daughter, who has had a tough journey in her life with long term, severe health issues. I suppose this is why I signed up to be part to do this kind of work. I believe research is the way forward and I feel good about doing my bit to help others. I think that is why most people become involved in research, simply to make things better. All research has to have a public element. This is where our panel, who are not experts, have a chance to express views and feelings on a wide variety of topics.

 

Photo by Bronia Arnott. All rights reserved.

What do I do?

In our meeting we usually hear three interesting research proposals, with a coffee break in between. We read about these proposals in advance of our meetings but nothing matches hearing the researcher talking about their study though as it really springs to life. I love hearing the researchers talk about their area of research with such passion and knowledge.

To be a panel member you do not have to be an expert, or have detailed knowledge of a particular subject. As a lay person you just give your opinion on the study and how you would feel if you took part, what the obstacles or concerns would be, or what the good parts are and if it is worth funding.

The sorts of topics we have covered, to name a few, are: teeth; mental health; arthritis; COPD; diabetes; and walking. One of my personal favourites was the research on sleep and the sleep clinic, but each research brings different and varied aspects of interest. Learning about different aspects of health has also impacted on my behaviour and knowledge on health topics and made me more aware of best practice and how to be fit, sleep better, etc.

The researchers often request to visit the panel again for extra help with different parts of the research, for example reading through information sheets or invitations to sit on a study steering group. These invitations are optional but it feels good to be asked for advice and to be able to give it.

We can also be asked to do online reviews between meetings. This is entirely optional but is also something I enjoy. I have just looked at a study on obesity, which is a worrying trend today. How much you want to be involved is up to you and there is no pressure to do lots of additional work if you do not want to or cannot do so at that time.
The panel members are always valued for their comments and financially compensated for their time. This includes travelling expenses, so you are not out of pocket.

What have I gained from being on the panel?

It gives me a lot of satisfaction when the researchers are pleased with our feedback and suggestions and when we suggest points from our perspective they had not considered. The panel can share their life experience and expertise too. I have also enjoyed working with the panel and the team who lead it.  We all share our views, perspectives and friendship together in a supportive manner. I have recommended the panel to both friends and colleagues.

If you are interested in research and also of having the satisfaction of developing a research proposal, this is a great way to do it, on a Friday afternoon, every month or so. You will certainly learn many new things and broaden your knowledge and enjoy it in the process.

This is a guest post by Caroline Kemp

Caroline Kemp is a member of the Research Design Service North East Consumer Panel. The consumer panel consists of members of the public from different backgrounds who meet regularly to discuss researcher applications and provide lay advice to researchers on their proposals. The members also have the opportunity to provide online reviews of funding applications. If you are a member of the public and you would like to join the panel please get in touch via rds@ncl.ac.uk

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