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Table 4 Town halls for patient engagement: Lessons learned

From: Engaging patients in health research: identifying research priorities through community town halls

Lesson Details
Language Matters Public events were advertised with the word ‘research.’ As the purpose of town halls was to identify public research priorities, it seemed an obvious word choice. A participant at a town hall with a very low turnout explicitly advised the team that residents likely thought they could not contribute to a discussion about ‘research.’ He advised people simply be invited to attend a town hall about their health concerns. This advice is well taken, as a first hurdle is getting the public to come out. It would be instructive to involve patients in planning sessions and advertising plans.
Use a skilled facilitator at public sessions Facilitators need to be able to paraphrase the public’s health concerns and distill these into research priorities and outcomes. An experienced facilitator will also steer the discussion from any one participant’s health concern or experience.
Use a variety of methods to engage the public While town halls provide excellent opportunity for discussion and clarification, cold advertising resulted in low turnout that is not easily justified in terms of the resources needed. Practical matters such as trying to tape-record group discussion in large spaces also proved impossible. In recent months, we have found better reception when members of our team visit community groups directly. A key lesson is ‘go to them,’ rather than expecting the public to come to you.
Significant time is required for planning Time to plan town halls must be accounted for in project planning and budgeting. Our teams met for up to six months to plan events before they started. Adequate time is needed for advertising upfront and for identifying appropriate community contacts to help advertise the event.
Determine how to describe the study sample Town hall formats may not allow adequate description of the study sample given participants’ disinclination to complete booklets provided during the session. We recommend time at the beginning of the town hall to collect demographic information. Patient engagement activities could also require a re-thinking of standard participant descriptions in results sections of papers.