Forced migrants involved in setting the agenda and designing research to reduce impacts of complex emergencies: Combining swarm with patient and public involvement

Julii Suzanne Brainard*, Enana Al Assaf, Judith Omasete, Stephen Leach, Charlotte C. Hammer, Paul R. Hunter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Many events with wide-ranging negative health impacts are notable for complexity: lack of predictability, non-linear feedback mechanisms and unexpected consequences. A multi-disciplinary research team was tasked with reducing the public health impacts from complex events, but without a pre-specified topic area or research design. This report describes using patient and public involvement within an adaptable but structured development process to set research objectives and aspects of implementation. Methods: An agile adaptive development approach, sometimes described as swarm, was used to identify possible research areas. Swarm is meant to quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of any candidate project, to accelerate early failure before resources are invested. When aspects of the European migration crisis were identified as a potential priority topic area, two representatives of forced migrant communities were recruited to explore possible research ideas. These representatives helped set the specific research objectives and advised on aspects of implementation, still within the swarm framework for project development. Results: Over ten months, many research ideas were considered by the collaborative working group in a series of six group meetings, supplemented by email contact in between. Up to four possible research ideas were scrutinised at any one meeting, with a focus on identifying practical or desirable aspects of each proposed project. Interest settled on a study to solicit original data about successful strategies that forced migrants use to adapt to life in the UK, with an emphasis on successfully promoting resilience and minimizing emotional distress. “Success in resettlement” was identified to be a more novel theme than “barriers to adaption” research. A success approach encourages participation when individuals may find discussion of mental illness stigmatising. The patient representatives helped with design of patient-facing and interview training materials, interviewer training (mock interviews), and aspects of the recruitment. Conclusion: Using patient and public involvement (PPI) within an early failure development approach that itself arises from theory on complex adaptive systems, we successfully implemented a dynamic development process to determine research topic and study design. The PPI representatives were closely involved in setting research objectives and aspects of implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalResearch Involvement and Engagement
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response in partnership with Public Health England (PHE). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Health Service, the NIHR, the Department of Health or PHE. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • Agile development
  • Complex emergencies
  • Forced migrants
  • Mental health
  • PPI representatives
  • Refugees


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