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This paper is a review of the experiences gained whilst working with the ‘expertise in practice project’. The project was concerned with understanding the complex phenomenon of practitioners investigating and evaluating their own practice. The research intention was focused on making a difference to how those nurses practised, through introducing systematic practice-based inquiry processes that could enable nurses to think more critically about their work and how their practice affects others. Particular attention is paid to the process of engaging people who use healthcare services, as research participants in the evaluation of nursing practice expertise. We outline how the project incorporated practitioners' concerns about asking people who use health care services opinions on nursing practice expertise and how a process of discovery emerged that enabled transformation of practice and consideration of the patient-participants' role as a sophisticated evaluator of health-care. As a result, we present a case for transformational qualitative research. Such research is values-driven and uses inclusive, collaborative and facilitative processes. It contributes to human flourishing, not only through its ‘ends’ (i.e. research products) but also, intentionally, through its ‘means’ (e.g. research processes and stakeholder involvement). Thus, transformational research is complex and requires that researchers engage in reflexivity (deep self-reflection) to examine and critique their personal values.