Quality practice of consumer engagement is still in its infancy in many sectors of medical research. The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) identified, early in its development, the opportunity to integrate evidence-driven consumer and community engagement into its operations.
SAHMRI partnered with Health Consumers Alliance and consumers in evidence generation. A Partnership Steering Committee of researchers and consumers was formed for the project. An iterative mixed-method qualitative process was used to generate a framework for consumer engagement. This process included a literature review followed by semi-structured interviews with experts in consumer engagement and lead medical researchers, group discussions and a consensus workshop with the Partnership Steering Committee, facilitated by Health Consumer Alliance.
The literature revealed a dearth of evidence about effective consumer engagement methodologies. Four organisational dimensions are reported to contribute to success, namely governance, infrastructure, capacity and advocacy. Key themes identified through the stakeholder interviews included sustained leadership, tangible benefits, engagement strategies should be varied, resourcing, a moral dimension, and challenges. The consensus workshop produced a framework and tangible strategies.
Comprehensive examples of consumer participation in health and medical research are limited. There are few documented studies of what techniques are effective. This evidence-driven framework, developed in collaboration with consumers, is being integrated in a health and medical research institute with diverse programs of research. This framework is offered as a contribution to the evidence base around meaningful consumer engagement and as a template for other research institutions to utilise.