By Rebecca Clinton and Noreen Lacey
As part of Research Week 2023 as well as the National PPI Festival month, charities, civil society organisations, researchers and research support staff of Maynooth University and further afield gathered for a common cause: to take the opportunity to better understand each other’s perspectives and explore how to best support each other in building and maintaining relationships well in advance of health-focused funding application deadlines.
We gathered in the Flexible Learning Room on the first floor of the Maynooth University John Paul II Library where for the first session, we listened to the ‘real time’ research needs and research goals of three charities, Family Carers Ireland (Dr. Nikki Dunne), DEBRA (Dr. Sinéad Hickey) and Barretstown (John Mitchell). Emerging themes during these 7 minute long talks from the charities included: approaching charities early with a research idea and not bringing a charity in last-minute before a funding application deadline as a tick-box requirement.
Secondly- treating the charity as an equal partner, not the party that must do all the administrative work behind a partnership. It was clear to see that meaningful, impactful research is a development of meaningful relationships with built-in mutual trust and therefore these relationships need time to be nurtured so that all stakeholders get the best possible outcome from their work together. Barretstown’s John Mitchell stressed the importance of the published research making an impact and getting to where it needs to be; not sitting on a coffee table or in a research journal.
Next, we heard from partnerships in action- charities and civil society organisations already working with MU researchers; Dr. Joanna Power McHugh (Psychology) & Dr. Aileen O Reilly, ALONE , Prof. Aisling McMahon (School of Law & Criminology, ALL Institute) & Dr. Frances Drummond Breakthrough Cancer Research, Dr. Cassandra Dinius (Psychology) & Brenda Buckley (PPI contributor), Dr. Laura O Philbin, Alzheimer's Society of Ireland (ASI) and Dr. Nicola Mountford (School of Business, ALL Institute) & Dr. Sarah Delaney, Health Research Charities Ireland. These conversations & presentations did a fantastic job of demystifying partnerships in action, highlighting the value for both partners, and offering hope to those starting out with public and patient involvement (PPI), that fruitful research with meaningful PPI is absolutely achievable once you allow the relationship to grow. A highlight was hearing from an experienced PPI Contributor, Brenda Buckley on her work with ASI and how her honest feedback directly altered the work of Prof. Richard Roche and postdoc Dr. Cassandra Dinius in their research on ageing brains.
Conceptualised and coordinated by Dr. Noreen Lacey of Maynooth’s Research Development Office and supported by Dr. Avril Kennan (HRCI) and Rebecca Clinton (PPI Officer at Maynooth University), this event aimed to give an in-person opportunity to come together and hear different perspectives, amplify the voices of charity and civil society organisations and their current research needs, while showcasing genuine productive partnerships in action between these groups and Maynooth University researchers.
Furthermore, to help the diverse attendees to think about and work towards co-developing funding applications together, in the third session partnering opportunities and upcoming EU Funding calls in the health space were outlined by senior EU programme manager Emma Murtagh of The Wheel and National contact point for Health research in Horizon Europe, Dr. Martha Cahill.
Dr. Avril Kennan offered a reflection piece after the first two sessions, noting how far involvement between charities, civil society organisations and researchers has come in just a few short years. The valuable HRCI/PPI Ignite Network resource ‘Charities and Researchers Partnering Guide’ was discussed and highlighted to help with successful partnerships.
It was acknowledged throughout the event that collaborations of this nature are not without their challenges, however the overall outlook was of optimism and excitement for the future and the real-world societal benefits that these collaborations yield.
We are already looking forward to the 3rd annual Research Together event next year.
Some initial feedback and learnings in from attendees, when asked how they found the event:
‘The talks from existing MU-charity partnerships as it helped me see the potential of such partnerships’
‘The engaging speakers; lovely room; great food’ ‘Connection ideas and understanding the value of PPI’
‘PPI talk with the PPI contributor involved was lovely and really motivating, social lunch as well was an excellent idea’
‘Good overview of different types of collaborations and expectations’
‘Having all stakeholders in one space felt like we were united’
‘Better understanding of the role of the PPI and charity organisations’
‘It strengthened connections - we discussed potential future projects’
‘Yes, useful to meet colleagues working in other disciplines aside from own discipline in health. This can sometimes be difficult, and these events are really helpful for this purpose as well as research purposes’
‘There are charities out there who are willing to connect, demystified it and made it more approachable’
'The opportunity to establish the needs of the different health charities, and to meet their project coordinators'
'The ability to meet with and hear from all stakeholders in a friendly, open environment. Great to see examples of charity-academic partnerships in action'
'Other charities have similar experiences to us in relation to partnering with researchers. The positive impact good partnership has, not only on people living with a disease but also the researchers and the charity'
'Learning about PPI what works and what does not work'
'Taking diverse perspectives properly into account'