Held at the University of Sydney on April 4, the ReConX workshop was attended almost equally by consumers interested in research and researchers seeking to better understand how to effectively engage consumers in their projects.

A highlight of ReConX was a panel which discussed real world examples of effective consumer/researcher partnerships.

Panel member, Professor Gopala Rangan from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, said that more than a decade of working with people who have lived experience of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) had made his research to find a cure more relevant.

“We can do research for the sake of doing research, but sometimes the outcomes are not translatable.”

PKD ambassador Vanessa Cullen described her long involvement in Professor Rangan’s research.

“Gopi is very friendly and it’s not like there’s a hierarchy in the relationship,” she told members of the workshop.

“Now we’re at a point where if Gopi has an idea, he’ll ask me what I think. It’s a new thing to have consumer advisory committees that actually do something and are not just a box ticking exercise.”

Vanessa Cullen speaking at ReConX event at the University of Sydney on April 4, 2024.

Dr Jillian Eyles, who is a Sydney Health Partners Research Translation Fellow, spoke about the importance of properly valuing the contribution of consumers by remunerating them.

“In research translation, most of the stakeholders in the room are getting paid, but consumers are generally not getting paid by anyone,” she said.

“They need to be recognised as equal partners and paid because, as end users, they are the most important people in the equation. If what we produce isn’t useful to consumers, what’s the point?”

Consumer Thomas Buttel, who works with Dr Eyles on implementing evidence-based treatments for osteoarthritis, said his input is welcomed.

“I have a lived experience of osteoarthritis so therefore I’m a consumer or patient and certainly the researchers feel that my input has some value,” he said. “I think everyone has something to add, its just that we all have different skill sets.”

ReConX concluded with a consultation session on the review of the NHMRC’s National Statement on Consumer and Community Involvement in Health and Medical Research.

One of the key points of feedback was that the statement needed to be clearer regarding its intended purpose and target audiences.

The workshop attendees also felt that the statement needed to be more inclusive and reflective of consumers involved as active partners in research and should use language that makes sense to both consumers and researchers.

Sydney Health Partners Research Director, Associate Professor Angela Todd said ReConX was a successful step towards building the Partnership’s capacity and capability for consumer involvement in research.

“As demands for consumer involvement in research become more frequent and insistent, we will need more initiatives like ReConX that bring consumers and researchers together so that we can move beyond the ‘why’ to the ‘how’” of connecting people who want to work together.”