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The ECOUTER methodology for stakeholder engagement in translational research

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Madeleine Murtagh, Dr Joel MinionORCiD, Dr Becca WilsonORCiD, Dr Mwenza BlellORCiD, Dr Stephanie RobertsORCiD, Dr Olly ButtersORCiD, Emeritus Professor Paul BurtonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2017 The Author(s). Background: Because no single person or group holds knowledge about all aspects of research, mechanisms are needed to support knowledge exchange and engagement. Expertise in the research setting necessarily includes scientific and methodological expertise, but also expertise gained through the experience of participating in research and/or being a recipient of research outcomes (as a patient or member of the public). Engagement is, by its nature, reciprocal and relational: the process of engaging research participants, patients, citizens and others (the many ‘publics’ of engagement) brings them closer to the research but also brings the research closer to them. When translating research into practice, engaging the public and other stakeholders is explicitly intended to make the outcomes of translation relevant to its constituency of users. Methods: In practice, engagement faces numerous challenges and is often time-consuming, expensive and ‘thorny’ work. We explore the epistemic and ontological considerations and implications of four common critiques of engagement methodologies that contest: representativeness, communication and articulation, impacts and outcome, and democracy. The ECOUTER (Employing COnceptUal schema for policy and Translation Engagement in Research) methodology addresses problems of representation and epistemic foundationalism using a methodology that asks, “How could it be otherwise?” ECOUTER affords the possibility of engagement where spatial and temporal constraints are present, relying on saturation as a method of ‘keeping open’ the possible considerations that might emerge and including reflexive use of qualitative analytic methods. Results: This paper describes the ECOUTER process, focusing on one worked example and detailing lessons learned from four other pilots. ECOUTER uses mind-mapping techniques to ‘open up’ engagement, iteratively and organically. ECOUTER aims to balance the breadth, accessibility and user-determination of the scope of engagement. An ECOUTER exercise comprises four stages: (1) engagement and knowledge exchange; (2) analysis of mindmap contributions; (3) development of a conceptual schema (i.e. a map of concepts and their relationship); and (4) feedback, refinement and development of recommendations. Conclusion: ECOUTER refuses fixed truths but also refuses a fixed nature. Its promise lies in its flexibility, adaptability and openness. ECOUTER will be formed and re-formed by the needs and creativity of those who use it.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murtagh MJ, Minion JT, Turner A, Wilson RC, Blell M, Ochieng C, Murtagh B, Roberts S, Butters OW, Burton PR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMC Medical Ethics

Year: 2017

Volume: 18

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 04/04/2017

Acceptance date: 08/01/2017

Date deposited: 27/04/2017

ISSN (electronic): 1472-6939

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd


DOI: 10.1186/s12910-017-0167-z


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