Public Involvement During COVID-19

Top tips for carrying out public involvement (PI) activities during COVID-19

During this COVID-19 pandemic measures taken by the government to limit the spread of the virus mean people must stay at home as much as possible, and limit contact with others (see the website). We are all having to adapt quickly, and change the ways in which we are working, and this is also true of people undertaking and participating in public involvement activities. Despite this rapidly changing context for health and social care research funding streams remain strongly committed to public involvement, and the NIHR have agreed 8 new commitments for public involvement during the pandemic which are aligned to the UK standards for public involvement. Additionally we have prepared some TOP TIPS designed to help researchers who are in the process of applying for grants, consider how to ensure they can continue to collaborate with public representatives in a meaningful way during these challenging and exceptional times.

  • Identifying public contributors:
    Utilise online sources or known contacts to identify relevant representatives. You may wish to contact a charity or support group via phone or email and request they disseminate some information regarding your project to their contacts. You might also look into online forums or try People in Research ( It is possible that charities will be particularly busy at this time, which may slow down response time.
  • How to ‘meet’:
    Meeting face to face will not be possible because of COVID-19, however there are other means of contacting people. Please consider what is most appropriate for the individual/s you are working with (and ask them their preference). One to one phone calls may work best for those with limited access to the internet, or for more in depth discussions. Teleconferences could also be an option, if a group discussion would be helpful but internet access is a challenge. Most universities/trusts have free use of BT’s conferencing for the public sector – please enquire with your local administrator if you
    kype, hangout and Gotomeeting.
  • Facilitating a video conference PI meeting:
    Skype/Zoom etc are not a replacement for face to face and need strong chairing. Establish clear ground rules from the offset, and ensure you provide opportunities for everyone to speak. Small points like “please keep your microphone muted if you’re not speaking” helps sound quality, and keeping participant numbers manageable will ensure all contributors are able to contribute fully. If not everyone has access to a video, it may be helpful for contributors to say who they are before they speak. For more guidance on chairing a videoconference please see this document produced by SPCR WM
  • Consider other ways of communicating:
    Using social media or whatsapp may be another way for a PI advisory group to stay in touch and engaged. Having a space for sharing info, resources, thoughts and friendly chat (as well as a space for more formal feedback) will help promote the supportive and friendly aspects of PI, which otherwise may be lost with a lack of face to face meetings.
  • Payment:
    Check with your finance department before undertaking any PI work that your representatives will still be able to be paid (in the absence of being able to sign claims forms), and whether any alternative process needs to be followed. If payment is not possible, consider alternative methods such as online vouchers.
  • Be mindful of people’s wider responsibilities:
    Your public contributors may well have additional responsibilities during these times, including caring for children or vulnerable adults, or shopping for neighbours. Try to give people plenty of time and reasonable timelines (except in exceptional circumstances for example COVID-19 related projects). Allow flexibility in your timelines to accommodate people’s changing circumstances, caring responsibilities or illness. For COVID-19 related projects, consider whether your public contributor is able to work with you on tight timescales. Discuss this with them and ensure they fully understand any commitment and have adequate capacity.
  • Co-design and co-production:
    This may be an additional challenge during these times, as this close working relationship may be harder to sustain virtually and with competing priorities. Discuss this with your public partner, and consider measures you are taking with other colleagues to continue working effectively. Adapting your working methods will be important, as will planning and ensuring effective communication. New resources and guidance is emerging and people are sharing ideas and resources constantly. If you are hoping to carry out co-production or co-design, then we recommend speaking with your RDS PI advisor who can share with you the latest information.

Covid research views from public contributors – this document provides a useful summary from NIHR public contributors relating to involvement in COVID-19 rapid response calls.

Health Research Authority along with partners, have establish a virtual UK COVID-19 Public Involvement in Research Network – a UK-wide network of public involvement groups which exist to enable their members to get involved in health and social care research. A summary of a recent workshop can be viewed here – HRA COVID19 Public Involvement workshop summary. This group has been established to link researchers who want to involve patients and the public in COVID-19 studies with public contributors and support effective communication to and between organisations that manage the involvement of patients and the public in research.
If you lead a public involvement group/network, please could you add brief details about your network to the shared database found here –
Here is a step by step guidance on how to add your group / network to the database – How to add information to the UK COVID-19 Public Involvement in Research database

The NIHR CRN have produced a guidance document to ensure COVID-19 Research is Inclusive: NIHR CRN INCLUDE COVID-19 Specific Guidance 2020