Forced migrants involved in setting the agenda and designing research to reduce impacts of complex emergencies: combining Swarm with patient and public involvement

Julii Suzanne Brainard (Lead Author), Enana Al Assaf, Judith Omasete, Steve Leach, Charlotte C. Hammer, Paul R. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Many events with wide-ranging negative health impacts are notable for complexity: lack of predictability, non-linear feedback mechanisms and unexpected consequences. A multi-disciplinary research team was tasked with reducing the public health impacts from complex events, but without a pre-specified topic area or research design. This report describes using patient and public involvement within an adaptable but structured development process to set research objectives and aspects of implementation.

Methods: An agile adaptive development approach, sometimes described as swarm, was used to identify possible research areas. Swarm is meant to quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of any candidate project, to accelerate early failure before resources are invested. When aspects of the European migration crisis were identified as a potential priority topic area, two representatives of forced migrant communities were recruited to explore possible research ideas. These representatives helped set the specific research objectives and advised on aspects of implementation, still within the swarm framework for project development.

Results: Over ten months, many research ideas were considered by the collaborative working group in a series of six group meetings, supplemented by email contact in between. Up to four possible research ideas were scrutinised at any one meeting, with a focus on identifying practical or desirable aspects of each proposed project. Interest settled on a study to solicit original data about successful strategies that forced migrants use to adapt to life in the UK, with an emphasis on successfully promoting resilience and minimizing emotional distress. “Success in resettlement” was identified to be a more novel theme than “barriers to adaption” research. A success approach encourages participation when individuals may find discussion of mental illness stigmatising. The patient representatives helped with design of patient-facing and interview training materials, interviewer training (mock interviews), and aspects of the recruitment.

Conclusion: Using patient and public involvement (PPI) within an early failure development approach that itself arises from theory on complex adaptive systems, we successfully implemented a dynamic development process to determine research topic and study design. The PPI representatives were closely involved in setting research objectives and aspects of implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalResearch Involvement and Engagement
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2017


  • Forced migrants
  • refugees
  • complex emergencies
  • agile development
  • mental health
  • PPI representatives

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