Evaluating the impact of service user involvement on research : A prospective case study
As service user involvement in health and social care research has become more firmly embedded in health policies, both in the UK and internationally, there is increasing interest in evaluating its potential benefits and outcomes. Impact studies have highlighted a range of different types of service user involvement, using diverse research methods, within various research topics and involving different stakeholders. Potential benefits to research, researchers and the service users actively involved in research have been identified, along with the possibility of some negative consequences. Many impact studies have been criticized for being based on informal retrospective accounts of researchers and service users working together. Few have been underpinned by conceptual models, and there is a paucity of detailed accounts of the process of involvement that would enable replication. This paper reports an account of a prospective, qualitative exploration of service user involvement within a study, where the aims of the evaluation were agreed beforehand. Reflective discussions about the process and progress of service user involvement at different stages of the study were recorded, transcribed and analysed. The qualitative analysis identified perceived benefits to research, researchers and service user researchers that endorsed previous findings. The analysis also highlighted subjective and interpersonal aspects of service user involvement that have seldom been reported. This evaluation demonstrates the benefits of allowing time for structured reflection and adds to the understanding of the process and meaning of service user involvement in research.