Involving citizens in priority setting for public health research: Implementation in infection research.

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Public sources fund the majority of UK infection research, but citizens currently have no formal role in resource allocation. To explore the feasibility and willingness of citizens to engage in strategic decision making, we developed and tested a practical tool to capture public priorities for research.

METHOD

A scenario including six infection themes for funding was developed to assess citizen priorities for research funding. This was tested over two days at a university public festival. Votes were cast anonymously along with rationale for selection. The scenario was then implemented during a three-hour focus group exploring views on engagement in strategic decisions and in-depth evaluation of the tool.

RESULTS

188/491(38%) prioritized funding research into drug-resistant infections followed by emerging infections(18%). Results were similar between both days. Focus groups contained a total of 20 citizens with an equal gender split, range of ethnicities and ages ranging from 18 to >70 years. The tool was perceived as clear with participants able to make informed comparisons. Rationale for funding choices provided by voters and focus group participants are grouped into three major themes: (i) Information processing; (ii) Knowledge of the problem; (iii) Responsibility; and a unique theme within the focus groups (iv) The potential role of citizens in decision making. Divergent perceptions of relevance and confidence of "non-experts" as decision makers were expressed.

CONCLUSION

Voting scenarios can be used to collect, en-masse, citizens' choices and rationale for research priorities. Ensuring adequate levels of citizen information and confidence is important to allow deployment in other formats.

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