The EPPI-Centre's programme of work seeks to develop ways of working with various groups of research and service ‘users’ throughout the review process, including deciding which topics need most urgently to be reviewed, and analyzing and disseminating the results of reviews.
Working with a range of users
A particular aim of the EPPI-Centre is to explore the perspectives and participation of those people who are, or represent, people receiving a service or who are affected by the service in some other way. This might include: patients in a clinical encounter; students in a classroom; people receiving, missing or avoiding health promotion interventions; or students and parents in relation to an education policy.
Although our primary interest is in people receiving services, their perspectives and participation needs to be considered alongside views from other participants such as policy makers and practitioners in public services; manufacturing or service industries in the commercial sector; and fundraisers and service providers in the voluntary sector. Involving both service providers and those receiving services allows a review to compare the two groups and explore the relationship between them.
The roles of 'users' - context and complexity
Varying terms have been used to describe the recipients of a service in different contexts. In the UK, the term 'consumers' has transferred from the commercial sector to the health sector. However, there has not been a simultaneous transfer of associated concepts and practices of choice and redress. Similarly, 'clients' of primary care practitioners do not share the same status as commercial clients. The term 'users' does not do justice to situations where services fail to reach people; where people prefer to avoid the services available; or where people are more accurately described as victims of services, for instance after pollution disasters. Social scientists' use of the term 'lay knowledge' can mislead by ignoring the professional skills of some service users that are pivotal in the achievements of campaigning groups. The terms 'public participation' and 'citizen involvement' imply similar generalisations.
None of these terms alone convey well the people and circumstances at the focus of our interest. They portray one-dimensional people, disregarding the multiple roles each of us plays in our lives, and how we draw on these different roles in each aspect of our lives. Nurses are practitioners in the clinic, but students in the classroom. Lawyers provide a professional service in their chambers, but also apply their skills as members of the voluntary sector, for example, challenging polluters near their homes. Mothers do more to promote the health of their families than anyone else, but are the target of health education leaflets in their local library. Doctors provide particularly interesting commentaries when they need to use health services for their own or their families' health.
Without a single term to accurately describe the people of interest here, the EPPI-Centre Perspectives and Participation programme chooses terms to describe the roles that people adopt in particular contexts. These may be consumers, service users, lay people, the public, or citizens. Alternative terms describe people's characteristics and circumstances more specifically, such as young people, inner city residents, or people with diabetes.
For more on user involvement please see our methods pages.