Guidance for public co-applicants in research

The NHS Research and Development (R&D) Forum, the Health Research Authority (HRA) and INVOLVE have recently published new guidance on the roles and responsibilities of public co-applicants in research.

The involvement of the public (including patients, carers and other members of the public) is an essential component of 21st century research. With increasing numbers of public contributors involved in the design and delivery of research, there has been a rise in the number of public co-applicants working with existing research teams. While this had been a positive and productive experience for many, others have had disappointing experiences, prompting for clarity about the role of public co-applicants and how they might be supported.

Public co-applicants can bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and skills to a research team, complementing clinical and methodological expertise. In particular, public co-applicants offer a different and unique perspective from other members of the team during the design and delivery of research. For many individuals, becoming a public co-applicant is an achievement, and a recognition of expertise.

Public co-applicants are part of the team and integrated as such. They provide a sense check and a different insight. They have added to the rigour of the research. Their personal experience has been so important especially when working in sensitive areas.”

A public co-applicant has the same level of responsibility as other co-applicants, and must be considered an equal member of the team. In many cases, this will be a level of responsibility not expected of other public contributors, such as advisory group members. It may require a greater commitment in terms of time and responsibility, which should be discussed from the outset to ensure that everyone is in agreement.

I’ve had the privilege to be a co-applicant on five funded pieces of research, as well as a few that were sadly not funded. On the whole, I’ve had a really positive experience in my role as a public co-applicant. From designing the research during the funding process, through to contributing to ethics applications, designing interview topic guides, analysing data and disseminating findings – it’s an incredible opportunity. However, there have been challenges too. From not feeling an equal member of the team, to being expected to complete unexpected work in a short period of time. These are all things that I’ve learned and experienced over time, and have helped me to become a better, more confident and competent public co-applicant.

However, guidance in this area is long overdue, so it is pleasing to see such guidance published by leading organisations in the United Kingdom. This guidance is intended to help:

  • Researchers wanting to include a public co-applicant on a research study;
  • Public contributors wanting to become a co-applicant on a research study;
  • 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.

You can find the guidance here.

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