Reference groups are groups of consumers or community members that can be referred to throughout the course of a research project.
They provide advice at a particular stage or throughout a project. Representatives of the reference group may be on the main research team and report back to the reference group. They may be especially helpful in getting information out about activities being planned. A reference group can help to develop an appropriate strategy for disseminating results of the activities to consumers or community members. Most community organisations have contact lists or newsletters that they are willing to utilise to help you share information with their members.
If consumers or community members find travelling difficult, live a long way away, or prefer not to meet face to face, consider setting up virtual reference groups. These groups provide input by video conferencing, email, Facebook pages, text messaging or phone.
Putting it into practice:
The Institute’s Developmental Pathways Project established a community reference group in 2011 that has up to fourteen community members. The members have an interest in, or association with, the research being undertaken within the project.
The Reference Group to provided a consumer perspective and brought insight into issues that affect health professional education, including the volunteer and patient experience.
The reference group was established to provide guidance on what was important to the community. Researchers may know what they think is important to research, but they do not necessarily know what is important to the community.