The PPI process


Successful PPI involves working closely with participants and this involves developing relationships, anticipating and responding to needs. The following factors need to be considered.

Gain trust

It is important to confirm that participants are at ease and are made to feel comfortable with what might seem to be a daunting process. Be consistent in terms of information- giving and work to develop and maintain a respectful, trusting relationship. Be aware that trust takes time to develop and be prepared to put in the required effort to build and then maintain it. Where possible try to meet participants prior to the main meeting so that a familiar face is waiting to welcome them.

Environmental considerations

Select an appropriate venue for the meeting. In addition to accessibility and suitability for participants (is it on the ground floor or are lifts available and is it in an appropriate location, for example); also give consideration to room size and layout so that discussion can be easily facilitated. Ensure that the room is at an appropriate temperature and refreshments and washroom facilities are available and accessible. Orientate participants to the environment if it is an unfamiliar one and check that they understand procedures to be undertaken in the event of a fire alarm, for example.

Introductions and clarification of the process

Even when participants have received the information in advance it is important to ensure that meetings begin with introductions, a clarification of the PPI process, the purpose of engaging people in implementation, what participants can expect, and how they will receive feedback. It can be helpful to explain what is involved in implementing research findings in practice and some of the challenges that may need to be overcome. 

Avoid making assumptions

Avoid making assumptions about individuals or groups; or about their understanding of the issues involved. If in doubt, ask and then explain. It is important to always be receptive to questions.

Opening discussion

To build confidence and to encourage participation, it is useful to open discussions with a topic which most people will feel able to discuss.

Listen

It is important to listen to everything that people say and not to focus only on what you want to hear. There is little point in giving people a voice if they are not going to be heard.

Value volunteers

Take people seriously, appreciate their input, and avoid wasting people’s time either in terms of the meetings that they are invited to, or the tasks that they are asked to do. Make sure that meetings are focused, timely and run to the expected agenda. Stick to time limits for meetings and do not cancel meetings at the last minute. It is important to view the meeting with participants as a priority and meeting etiquette should be respected.

Be patient

The process may take longer than anticipated and it may take several meetings before PPI becomes ‘fruitful’. Groups can take time to become established and to reach the point where participants feel comfortable enough to share their views and opinions. Also, participants may see such meetings as an opportunity to discuss issues or raise concerns about factors which are not intended to be the focus of the meeting. Tact is required to ensure that participants stay focused on the topic whilst not dismissing their concerns out of hand. It may be necessary to signpost participants to more appropriate places to direct their concerns or frustrations.

Be creative in terms of how involvement is captured

Involvement is often presented in statistical format, such as ‘this month we involved ten people with mental health problems in our service planning.’ Consider other ways of gathering and presenting information. Examples might include inviting participants with communication difficulties to articulate their views through art, such as paintings or photographs.

Take action

PPI should never be a ‘box ticking exercise’. Anyone facilitating PPI has a duty to ensure that action follows - in terms of doing something with the information gathered.

Provide feedback to participants

Immediate feedback is beneficial but this also needs to be followed up with more detailed feedback. Make sure that participants receive feedback about what happened as a result of their involvement – the outcome of the process. It is important to recognise that PPI is about more than just giving people the opportunity to have their say; it is also about doing something with that information and then letting them know what has been done.

Feedback is courteous; it shows appreciation and confirms that the value of participants’ contributions is recognised. Many participants value feedback more highly than remuneration.

Feedback must be accessible

Make sure that feedback uses accessible language and is pitched at a level to suit all participants. Tailor feedback to meet the needs of the participants – for example, a written summary may suffice or it may be more beneficial to meet again to give feedback in person.