Involving and engaging the public are crucial for effective prioritisation, dissemination and implementation of research about the complex interactions between environments and health. Involvement is also important to funders and policy makers who often see it as vital for building trust and justifying the investment of public money. In public health research, ‘the public’ can seem an amorphous target for researchers to engage with, and the short-term nature of research projects can be a challenge. Technocratic and pedagogical approaches have frequently met with resistance, so public involvement needs to be seen in the context of a history which includes contested truths, power inequalities and political activism. It is therefore vital for researchers and policy makers, as well as public contributors, to share best practice and to explore the challenges encountered in public involvement and engagement. This article presents a theoretically informed case study of the contributions made by the Health and Environment Public Engagement Group to the work of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Change and Health (HPRU-ECH). We describe how Health and Environment Public Engagement Group has provided researchers in the HPRU-ECH with a vehicle to support access to public views on multiple aspects of the research work across three workshops, discussion of ongoing research issues at meetings and supporting dissemination to local government partners, as well as public representation on the HPRU-ECH Advisory Board. We conclude that institutional support for standing public involvement groups can provide conduits for connecting public with policy makers and academic institutions. This can enable public involvement and engagement, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in individual short-term and unconnected research projects.
- environment and health
- health policy
- issues in research methodology