Objective: To assess the benefits of involving health-care users in diabetes research.
Design and participants: For this qualitative case study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with researchers who had worked extensively with the group. During regular meetings of the Research User Group, members discussed their views of the group's effectiveness as part of the meeting's agenda. Interviews and discussions were transcribed, coded using N-Vivo software and analysed using constant comparative methods.
Results: Involvement of users in research was generally seen as contributing to effective and meaningful research. However, the group should not be considered to be representative of the patient population or participants of future trials. An important contributor to the group's success was its longstanding nature, enabling users to gain more insight into research and form constructive working relationships with researchers. The user-led nature of the group asserted itself, especially, in the language used during group meetings. A partial shift of power from researchers to users was generally acknowledged. Users' main contribution was their practical expertise in living with diabetes, but their involvement also helped researchers to remain connected to the 'real world' in which research would be applied. While the group's work fulfilled established principles of consumer involvement in research, important contributions relying on personal interaction between users and researchers were hard to evaluate by process measures alone.
Conclusions: We demonstrated the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of this longstanding, experienced, lay-led research advisory group. Its impact on research stems from the continuing interaction between researchers and users, and the general ethos of learning from each other in an on-going process. Both process measures and qualitative interviews with stakeholders are needed to evaluate the contributions of service users to health research.