Service users have long been involved as participants in research. In recent years, they have increasingly been invited to act as consultants to researchers, giving their perspective on research ideas. Some service users have also been employed as researchers themselves. Mental health researchers are strongly encouraged by research funding bodies to gain service user input into the development of their research plans, but sometimes this consultation can feel rather tokenistic.
The North London Service User Research Forum (SURF) was set up in 2007 to address these issues and to encourage a more meaningful and two-way relationship between service users and researchers.
The SURF aims to provide:
- service users with an understanding of the purposes and processes of research
- opportunities for service users to contribute to research studies
- a forum and reference group for researchers to discuss their research ideas with service users prior to funding applications
- a forum to discuss the best way to feed back the results of completed studies to service users
Since start up, the SURF has consulted on over 100 projects and many members have become further involved with individual studies (joining the project management group or service user reference group, delivering study interventions and carrying out research interviews).