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Top tips for new public members of NIHR funding committees


Published: 01 September 2014

Version: 1.0 - September 2014

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In September 2014 we asked all our current public members of research programme funding committees if they had any ‘top tips’ to share with future new starters. At the start of your involvement, we hope that you will find these tips from your peers helpful and/or thought provoking.

Before the meeting

Before the papers arrive clear the decks, get rid of things that will distract so sort out those lingering jobs beforehand. Read through guidelines and have a quick guide to refer to for key PPI points.

  • When the full proposals arrive - take a deep breath, lots of reading about technical stuff - Google is a great resource!
  • Choosing which to start is tricky, maybe if stuck the one that appeals most, or sometimes I choose the shortest one to get me going. It can take me hours to button first one, but then it gets easier to get into the next ones. Don’t forget you need time to browse the other applications and minutes and any other papers.
  • Spend some time reading and digesting what the research is about in the plain English summary. Focus on how they have engage with PPI - individuals, groups, charities & others. If they have recruited patients to be part of a management group what support is available (training) & are they being reimbursed for participating? In the main text of the proposal see if a designated budget has been allocated to PPI and look at how it is broken down - participating costs, training, travel etc.
  • When I first started, I compiled a simple template/summary of the main points to be covered in my reports and I use it when I am reading proposals and as the basis for my oral reports. It may be helpful - I think it covers all the key issues that we are asked to report on:
    • Potential patient benefit
    • Summary of PPI involvement and strengths (how active is it and at what stages?)
    • What is being asked of patients, and is it practical?
    • Financial considerations of PPI
    • Key concerns
    • Potential opportunities for improving PPI
    • Any other issues

Make sure you have prepared a very short and to the point summary of your views, keeping the points you make clear and concise – so that your most important points can be summed up in a few sentences.

  • Don't expect to be able to make all your points during a meeting so prioritise the most
    important before you attend.

At the meeting

  • If you have a more general issue, think about what may be the best time to raise it. At the start of the meeting? AOB [any other business] at the end? Is it worthwhile talking to the Chair first and letting them know you have something you want to bring up, asking them what would be the best time to do it?
  • Feel confident - you've been appointed because you have shown that you can and do speak appropriately to patient and public involvement and protection issues. There's no need to over prepare, but be prepared!
  • Don't worry about being 'right'. It can be easy to play yourself down and think that the other professionals on the committee are all experts, therefore they know more than you. However, you're an expert at what it's like to be a patient, and the experiences & opinions that you bring are valid and worth sharing.
  • Remember that everyone is on the same side; there is no 'them and us'; if people don't accept your points it's not because you're a PPI member. It's because they disagree.
  • Don’t get fixated on your own experience or health; others will think you a bore – we’ve all “been there”.
  • If sometimes you don't feel confident about speaking out, or asking what something means, remember that the non-PPI people round the table are specialists in their own field, and don't necessarily feel confident themselves on speaking about all proposals or all aspects of a particular proposal.
  • What’s presented as a medical problem may not be; try some lateral thinking to analyse it a different way.
  • Think about how you say things so that they not come across as a criticism of the group or the individuals within it. Start with any positives.
  • Remember communication is a two-way street which often involves both talkers and listeners with different levels of competence in these tasks. Sometimes you might have to listen harder, ask more questions or explain your own points differently.
  • Be succinct – sometimes more is less, particularly when there is a lot to get through and a lot of voices to be heard.
  • Try not to let the importance of good PPI outrank the importance of an otherwise well designed study. Ask yourself which you'd rather have - a poorly designed study with excellent PPI that's unlikely to deliver a valid or reliable outcome, or a well designed study that will answer an important question but has lousy PPI - it does happen – and vote accordingly.
  • The process of selecting projects for funding is one of consensus building. This is achieved by a number of people bringing different perspectives to bear on each application. No one person is an expert in everything - health economists probably don't have much knowledge of realist evaluation and vascular surgeons are probably not too well versed in statistics. Added to this is the fact that very, very few applications describe projects that are eligible to fund without any changes at all - they all have strong and not so strong points. So it's perfectly reasonable to say, "I don't know" as well as, "I know". There isn't a right answer; there is only a balance of views to be
    arrived at and clear feedback for applicants to help them improve their projects.
  • When it comes to scoring applications you need to remember that, if the only faults in the application are 'fixable', your score should assume that those faults will be fixed. You don't mark down because of 'fixable faults'. This can be quite difficult to do as the committee will just have spent time discussing those faults immediately before marking, so they will be uppermost in your mind.
  • There is equality between the members of the panel. Every vote has the same value so your opinion and vote counts as much as anyone else's.
  • Who to talk to if you are unhappy with the experience of being a panel member (this has not happened to me but I am aware from others that sometimes meetings do not go well for the PPI person).
  • You’re doing this because you want to; enjoy it, and stop doing it when it stops providing “job satisfaction”.