Both within politics and practice, the field of psychiatry is undergoing a significant transformation, as increasing emphasis is placed on the importance of involving those with lived experience in research. In response to this participatory turn, a push towards measuring the impact of patient involvement is also growing, seeking to identify how participation can improve research.
This paper examines the recent push towards measuring impact in relation to justifications underlying the democratization of research in psychiatry, revealing a disconnect between the two, and harms that could result from a singular focus on measuring impact.
While those promoting and regulating participatory research tend to focus on the epistemic benefits of such research, many have pointed to both epistemic and ethical justifications underlying participatory research. The ethical reasons for involving service users loom especially large in psychiatry, given its unique history of abuse, the ways diagnoses can be utilized as tools for oppression, and the prevalence of coercion. The current focus on measuring the impact of involvement can be harmful, in that it obscures ethical reasons in favour of epistemic ones, potentially exacerbating issues common to participatory research, such as role confusion and ineffective, tokenistic participatory efforts.
We argue that to take the ethical reasons behind involvement in mental health research seriously will involve looking beyond impact and towards sharing power. We suggest three ways this can be done: measuring more than impact, building service user capacities and sharing power in realms outside of research.