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A stronger voice: Action research in mental health services using carers and people with experience as co-researchers

Sherrie Anne Hitchen (Department of Planning and Development, Devon Partnership Trust, Exeter, UK)
Graham R Williamson (Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to discuss learning about service-user and carer involvement from an action research (AR) study into self-directed support implementation in one English mental health trust. The paper promotes appointing and supporting carers and people with experience as co-researchers to obtain authentic local perspectives when undertaking service implementation or redesign.


The researchers used an AR spiral method incorporating carers and people with mental health experience as co-researchers. The co-researchers worked alongside the lead researcher gathering data from focus groups, training sessions and other meetings over four years and attending collaborative steering group meetings alongside professional workers throughout the study.


The authors suggest that participation gave co-researchers a powerful and effective voice in this service redesign. This approach revealed more authentic research data and required professionals to be more accountable for their perceptions and to make explicit their understandings throughout the study, which enabled more effective working. Steering group participation was central to securing this participation.


The paper illustrates how carer and service-user co-researchers can be supported to benefit both mental health organisations undergoing change and to co-researchers themselves. It also identifies AR’s utility in uncovering learning as well as structuring change.



The research was supported by the Devon Partnership Trust. The authors acknowledge the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the four co-researchers who worked with the lead researcher during this study. Thanks are also due to Mary Watkins, Emeritus Professor of Health Services Leadership and formerly Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Plymouth University, who provided academic supervision for SH and was an invaluable support throughout the study to which this paper refers.


Hitchen, S.A. and Williamson, G.R. (2015), "A stronger voice: Action research in mental health services using carers and people with experience as co-researchers", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 211-222.



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