Gail Faragher

Gail’s story – Why involving patients and the public is so important to me

By Gail Faragher, Public Engagement Research Coordinator, Mental Health Research Innovation Centre (M-RIC).

I started in the new role of public engagement research co-ordinator with the Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC) after a career of working in community arts followed by academia.

In this mental health research environment it feels as though public participation and the principle of co-production is truly being recognised. Bringing people’s voices into designing services when we are at our most vulnerable, is the most civilised thing I’ve ever heard.

Every day I come home to my partner and say ‘You’ll never guess what…’ about something or someone new I’ve met or discovered. It is the perfect job for me, I feel very lucky to have found it.

Before joining M-RIC I was doing post graduate research and some teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University and while there I was introduced to public engagement in science. I ended up in the geography department which was strange as I never saw myself in a hard science environment. My fellow post grads spent all day in the lab and I thought this isn’t a great fit, I’m not sure this is for me. But what I gained from that experience was the awareness that scientists need help engaging with the public.

I piloted a public engagement project called Drip which involved working with a climate scientist, an artist and some schools. It was inspired by COP 2021 taking place in Glasgow and we built a visual installation which was science education at primary level; and we made a video aimed at researcher level.

After this I knew I couldn’t go back to my community arts job, partly because there’s nothing left because of austerity; and I like the university environment but I don’t want to teach, I prefer being a mentor, one to one person, rather than a classroom teacher.

When I was nearing the end of my PhD and saw an advert for this job I knew it was perfect for me. Also it meant coming home to Liverpool after spending most of my working life in Manchester and Salford. It really is the perfect job!

Patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) is not new, but it’s not necessarily done consistently in the research environment. It can be light touch, just asking people about what they think of decisions made – or it can be really meaningful.

I understand why it might be challenging for practitioners and for researchers; in my own experience it was sometimes hard to consider sharing the decision-making processes in my research, but I’ve learnt that it can make for a more robust process.

I understand why it is difficult for researchers; they have gone to university for three years and studied for a Masters and then done a PhD and then done a research fellowship and they are experts in research. If that was me I would find it quite challenging to consider letting some of that go because that is the implication of co-production, you have to share some of the decision making.

I am currently getting to know more about the research themes and how the aims and objectives can be supported by PPIE. Once I have a deeper understanding of what the investigators need, my role is to go and find the right people to be involved and build relationships with the communities relevant to the research themes.

I am looking for service users to be part of the research journey; and I am developing an outreach programme to raise awareness of M-RIC in different communities, to support the cross-cutting themes of inclusion and diversity.

In the summer I contacted members of the African Caribbean community in Liverpool, to involve them in a bid for a research grant. It was a bit last minute so I was a little tentative when I first met the Black Women’s Health Forum at the Liverpool African Caribbean Centre. But I joined their dance class and I have since met them a couple of times and we are talking about doing a pilot project, to explore some aspect of how a PPIE programme will be run over the next four and a half years.

I am looking at the research themes from both sides – from the side of the researcher in helping them involve the public and patients in a meaningful way; and from the side of the public in starting where they are, working backwards and developing natural relationships between their activities and the research projects.

With the Black Women’s Health Forum we might not hit on a research-ready project right away, but we can keep raising awareness of the benefits of doing research in the Afro Caribbean communities, where involvement in research is historically low. That means those people miss out twice, first because of the structural inequalities they may be subject to, and second because the experiences of those inequalities might not warm them to research, so they miss out on getting their experiences shared and voices heard.

Another one of the important building blocks is creating the governance and structure in which the service users’ group will work. I am involving service users in working out where they sit in the M-RIC eco-system, how their activities will be organised and managed; and what the processes will be when we involve them.

I am ridiculously, annoyingly enthusiastic and at the end of the programme I would love to organise a festival and a conference so that we end with a flourish and provide an example of good practice in data stewardship, mental health service improvement and PPIE.

Find out more

Find out more about how we are involving service users and the public in our work on our Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement page.