Co-production can be described as groups of people getting together to influence the way that research is designed, delivered and communicated. These groups may include researchers, practitioners and members of the public. Peer researchers use their lived experience and understanding of an issue to help generate information about others experiencing an issue, this information is then used for research purposes. Co-production is increasingly promoted within public health and health services research as a way of working that enables greater equality and inclusivity, and that results in research that is more relevant, acceptable and potentially impactful. In this case, peer researchers shared their experiences of mental health to co-produce mental health research working in partnership with SPHR academics.
Our research and why it is useful
Within our Public Mental Health (PMH) programme of research, we are committed to taking a co-production approach, with the aim of ensuring our research sticks to values of inclusivity and equality, has relevance to the public, benefits from expertise by experience, and shared in accessible ways.
In the early stages of the programme we worked with the McPin Foundation to recruit a team of five peer researchers and a team coordinator. During the first phase of work, each research project had at least one peer researcher as part of the study team, who contributed to study design, implementation, write-up and dissemination. In the second phase of our work, the peer researchers continued to work as co-researchers while also designing and leading a research project, supported by SPHR academics on ‘Public perspectives on structural inequalities and their public mental health impact’.
By using a co-production approach in our research, several different groups of people have benefitted:
- Academic researchers benefited through developing inclusive ways of working, thereby ensuring their work has greater relevance and accessibility to the public and the people their work affects.
- The public benefited through increased opportunities to have their voices reflected in our work and access to a new website to express their experiences and concerns in relation to mental health.
- Public health practitioners benefited through access to the website, and to our public mental health conceptual framework – co-created with the peer researchers – which can be used to support policy prioritisation and development.
Real world impact
Peer researchers are our partners and are equal members of each team. They contribute to deciding which key priorities the research should focus on, as well as how it should be done. Peer researchers are co-authors on a number of journal articles. They have led or participated in several presentations to academics, public health practice colleagues and other external organisations, and the general public. They have written blogs about public involvement in public mental health research and featured in a number of our Behind the research interviews.
Through their contributions in the public mental health programme of research, from the design of research questions, public consultations, reviewing the literature, data collection and analysis, and dissemination activities – the peer researchers have played a significant role in the outcomes which are now beginning to emerge.
The peer researchers’ work on our Conceptual Framework for Public Mental Health has been particularly impactful. Members of the team reviewed literature. They created mind maps showing the components important to their understanding of public mental health, which expanded our understanding of key determinants of mental health. The team co-led workshops to facilitate meaningful public input into the developing framework, and into our work reviewing mental health outcomes. Now complete, the Conceptual Framework can be used as a tool by academics, practitioners and the public, to identify gaps in the knowledge, encourage a holistic approach to prevention, support and policy development, and inform individual choice and promote general knowledge and awareness.
A second key outcome from the peer researchers’ work was their development of a website to capture public voices regarding what is important in relation to mental health: https://www.iampublicmentalhealth.org/. The website initially focused on the peer researchers’ own reflections of mental health during the COVID -19 pandemic. The team then moved on to collecting public experiences. Entries can be submitted and viewed by anyone. Therefore, the website has the potential to impact on academics and practitioners understanding of a wide range of public experience and priorities in relation to mental health. The website has already worked with two voluntary organisations, as well as a number of contributions generated by public members of diverse communities. The peer research team also sparked conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #IamPublicMentalHealth.
In addition to study specific work, the peer researchers have had an important impact on our ways of working, both within our public mental health research, and increasingly across SPHR as a whole. As a result of feedback from the team regarding their experience, we have changed meeting structures to include greater space for team building and for reflection, and we have set up a buddy system, to enable academics and peer researchers to pair up and learn from each other about the co-production process – an approach that is being considered for replicating within the wider SPHR. The team have presented examples of their work and their reflections on the co-production process, at the SPHR’s inaugural Public Partners Network meeting (PAN) – an opportunity for all members of the public involved in SPHR work to meet together, learn more about involvement in research, and contribute to a more inclusive process at a strategic level. A member of the peer research team in partnership with an SPHR academic colleague ran a workshop for children and young people who have been involved in SPHR work, to celebrate their contributions, and draw together learning to share with other SPHR academics about our approach to public involvement with these younger age groups.
All these inputs have had immediate beneficial impact on our public involvement and engagement throughout SPHR. Our co-production approach has had a high impact on the quality, relevance and inclusivity of our work, by ensuring the public voice has been considered at all stages, from priority planning, through study design and conduct, to dissemination and design of outputs for use in public health practice. It will also improve the ways in which we as public health academics continue to work in partnership with the public in the future. Our public mental health research alone has around 80 academics and 16 practice collaborators working within it, therefore there is potential for this co-production work to have a significant impact on the way in which public health research is conducted.