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Public Co-Applicants in Research – guidance on roles and responsibilities

This guidance is intended to help:

  • Researchers wanting to include a public co-applicant in a study
  • Public contributors wanting to become a co-applicant
  • Research staff who coordinate public involvement activities or advise on funding applications
  • Those working in or with research organisations to review or process research applications.

Commenting on the publication of the new guidance, Simon Denegri, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) National Director for Patients, Carers and the Public said:

According to the recent national survey of people’s experiences of being involved in National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), one in five patients, carers and members of the public told us they had been a ‘co-applicant’ in research. An equivalent number described themselves as being a ‘member of a research team.’

As a member of review panels and as a reviewer of applications it is certainly my experience that more and more research teams cite having public co-applicants as part of the team.   And I suspect that it is a trend that will continue if not accelerate as researchers and the public strive to forge mutually beneficial partnerships.

But what does being a ‘public co-applicant’ mean in practice?

An active debate on this question has ensued over the last few years. It has been fuelled by both good and bad experiences. A key determinant of this experience is whether there is a shared understanding of the role, rights and responsibilities of being a public co-applicant as a member of the team.  Not to mention clarity around issues such as reimbursement, training and communication. These things can only be achieved through early and open discourse supported by good information.

Trouble is, up until now, good guidance to support these conversations and the subsequent partnership that forms from them has not existed.

Thankfully, INVOLVE, the Health Research Authority (HRA) and NHS R&D Forum have today stepped into the breach by publishing ‘Public co-applicants in research: guidance on roles and responsibilities.’   It provides practical help and support on all aspects of the role including the legal context and is interspersed with the views and experiences of co-applicants and researchers.  By identifying the good and the not so good it will help us evolve best practice in this area.

It’s an extraordinarily helpful document which is surely a must-read for those setting out on this path but also for people who are already public co-applicants and the researchers they are working alongside.