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Stakeholder panels for smokers and drinkers

Dr Sally Adams and Dr Karen Evans-Reeves reflect on their engagement project with members of the public who are smokers and drinkers.

This project involved establishing and running two targeted panels, each with up to 20 members. The first examined smokers’ attitudes and thoughts on some research published on the TobaccoTactics website. This research included exploring anti-plainpackaging messages from industry and a recent cigarette marketing campaign that had been accused of targeting youth.

The second examined factors associated with alcohol use and alcohol hangover to inform new research in this area. As such, the panels served two purposes, eliciting people’s thoughts on existing research and using their experiences to inform the development of new research questions, measurements and interventions.

Panels took place in The Guild (a city central location) and ran from 6.30pm to 9pm so that people could attend after work. Panel members were provided with a buffet-style meal and received a £20 voucher for their time.

What we gained from the experience

Our research area of tobacco and alcohol use is highly relevant to the general public. Through establishing and running the stakeholder panels, we benefited from:

  • creating opportunities to communicate directly with the beneficiaries of our research
  • understanding how smokers react to industry voices that oppose the plain packaging of tobacco products will help us to understand how we might present our research findings more effectively to counter misleading messages
  • consulting drinkers on a specific research project on alcohol hangover with their input directly contributing to the design and development of a Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) grant on The cognitive effects of alcohol hangover
  • exploring how to maximise the impact and benefit of the research proposed in the ESRC grant through discussing with the drinkers’ panel how they thought hangovers affected the way people think, feel and behave and whether they thought there were any activities that shouldn’t be performed whilst hungover

What our partners gained

In relation to the smokers’ panel, many were interested to hear the counterevidence to industry arguments against plain packaging. As such, they left the panel with both sides of the argument and were therefore better able to make up their own minds in relation to the issue.

Participants in the drinkers’ panel were really curious about the proposed research on alcohol hangover and benefitted from the debunking of certain myths around hangovers. They also learnt more about the research process and the formulation of research questions and were able to provide anecdotal support for the theoretically driven research questions.

What we'd do differently

The drinkers’ panel was held in August which, in retrospect, was a mistake as many people were on their summer holidays at the time. As a consequence, we had fewer people attending this panel although those that did attend were highly engaged in the research area.

We neglected to gather any formal feedback from the panel members as to how they had found the experience and why they had decided to get involved. Such information would have been useful for future forums - understanding people’s motives for engagement would help us to shape future recruitment messages as well as the design and delivery of the panels.

Top tips

If you’re interested in working with stakeholder panels there are several tips Sally and Karen have that might be helpful:

  • don’t use jargon

  • be open to learning from non-academic participants

  • go with an open mind and expect people to challenge your research

  • welcome any challenge. It’ll help you to see how your research is perceived outside of the academic ‘bubble’ and gives you the opportunity to think about the key messages of your research

  • be open to stakeholders’ input and its potential for shaping your existing and future research