Inside the Public Advisory Board – and how it’s helping to shape Our Future Health

Spotlight – 6 September 2022
Meet the members of the public, from all walks of life, who get together to make sure our research programme represents the needs of the nation.
Clockwise from top left: Martin Hughes, Pamela Gregory, Andy Bailey (Chairman), Mala Mattu, and Danielle Mitchell

How do you create a health research programme that will involve up to five million people, from right across the UK?

We believe the answer is to include the views of the public at every step of the way.

That’s why we have a Public Advisory Board, which features a diverse panel of people from different backgrounds, professions, and locations. The Board meets regularly throughout the year, to give us its opinions on our plans and review the materials we create.

By representing the views of the public, its members have become a crucial part in the process of making Our Future Health a success for everyone.

“We’ve been on quite a journey already,” says Andy Bailey, a civil engineer from Nottinghamshire. Andy first became involved with Our Future Health in 2021, by taking part in market research groups that discussed the idea of a health research programme involving millions of people. In 2022, he became the Chairman of the Public Advisory Board, responsible for leading the group that is helping to shape Our Future Health.

“The task of the Public Advisory Board is to take various outputs from all the sections of Our Future Health – things like policies, procedures, marketing materials – and give them a good prod,” he explains. “We run them through our minds and feed back what the public perception could be.

“The group is very diverse and we have a broad range of experiences. We provide our view of how the people we know might react.”

What does a meeting look like?

Typically, the Board meets once every three months over a video call, which means people can join regardless of where they are in the country. One week ahead of the meeting, members are supplied with documents to read and review. Then, during the meeting, everyone is given an opportunity to share their views and discuss the thoughts of others. Designated Our Future Health employees join the call, to help steer the discussion and take notes.

“They’re always healthy discussions,” says Danielle Mitchell, a support worker and bookkeeper who is based in the Southeast. “Everyone can have an opinion without it being right or wrong. Some people are more vocal than others, but the person who’s chairing the meeting makes sure that everyone is involved.”

“Everyone’s opinions matter,” agrees Mala Mattu, a civil servant from Derby. “We’re just normal people and we don’t necessarily have the background to know about health research, but we can give our honest opinions. We give our gut reaction to questions, so it’s real.”

The topics that they talk about reflect the many different considerations that go into Our Future Health. For example, a meeting in the summer of 2022 discussed the ethics of when and how health researchers can re-contact our volunteers. On other occasions, the Board, which includes members from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has looked at brand marketing, so that Our Future Health can effectively communicate with the public

“I remember in an early meeting, we were helping to design a leaflet that describes Our Future Health,” says Pamela Gregory, a supply teacher from Somerset, who first became involved with the programme in 2020. “The design featured lots of coloured tiles, and someone raised the point that some dyslexic people find it hard to read writing on a red background. If you see the leaflet today, you’ll notice that there’s no red tiles anymore, for that reason”.

Why the board’s members support Our Future Health

The people on the Public Advisory Board take part for a variety of reasons, although they’re united by an urge to help others. “I’ve always had an urge to do things that are of greater benefit to society,” says Andy, who also volunteers as a presiding officer at government elections. “I enjoy meeting people from Our Future Health, delving into their work, and helping them to articulate their thoughts in a more digestible way for the normal person on the street”.

Mala says she’s attracted by the chance to help people live in good health for longer. “Health is important to everyone,” she says. “I’ve had quite a few members of my family who’ve had cancer. My mother passed away from breast cancer. When someone close to you suffers from a serious condition, it affects you. You think, ‘it can happen to anyone’.

“That’s why it’s really important to help with this research. It will mean people find out about health conditions earlier.”

For Martin Hughes, a retired organic chemist from South Wales, Our Future Health is an opportunity for him to use the skills he learned during his career for the public good. Martin spent 20 years doing lab chemistry, before moving into documentation writing, so he’s experienced at communicating complex topics to people.

“To be as accessible as Our Future Health needs to be, you have to simplify things,” he says. “In the meetings, I regularly challenge some of the terminology that’s used. I’ve asked for long sentences to be broken up into bitesize chunks.”

“I’d hope that the five million people who join will have to read, say, three pages of documents rather than eight. That’s something that I feel I’ve helped to streamline.”

Danielle is similarly motivated to make Our Future Health accessible to people from all walks of life. “I live in a very deprived area and I’m naturally community spirited,” she says. “Sometimes I get the documents before a meeting and I just know that the wording isn’t right for people who live around me. They wouldn’t understand it.

“I like the idea of helping to tweak wording so it speaks to everyone.”

By the public, for the public

As the Chairman, Andy says he enjoys the parts of a meeting when the Board is shown the results of their work. “Our Future Health come back and show us the outcome of our input. It shows that we’re achieving something – we’re not just a talking shop.”

“You realise that Our Future Health actually uses our suggestions,” agrees Pamela. “Initially I thought it would be paying lip service to the idea of public involvement, but I’ve realised that we really are part of the project.

“This programme is for the public, so it’s great to be contributing to it as a member of the public.”

Our Future Health has multiple advisory boards that help to steer our research programme. You can find out more about them on the About Us page.