Combining qualitative research with PPI: reflections on using the person-based approach for developing behavioural interventions

Ingrid Muller*, Miriam Santer, Leanne Morrison, Kate Morton, Amanda Roberts, Cathy Rice, Marney Williams, Lucy Yardley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
237 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The value and importance of qualitative research and Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) for developing complex health interventions is widely recognised. However, there is often confusion between the two, with researchers relying on just one of these approaches, rather than using the two alongside one another. 

Methods: The Person-Based Approach (PBA) to developing health-related behaviour change interventions adapts and integrates methods from user-centred design and qualitative research. The PBA involves qualitative research at multiple stages of interventions to ensure they are acceptable, feasible, meaningful, and optimally engaging to the people who will use them. The qualitative research is carried out with research participants from a target population, who have no prior or continuing involvement in the wider research process and see the intervention from a fresh perspective. This enables in-depth understanding of the views and experiences of a wide range of target users and the contexts within which they engage with behavioural change. PPI in research is carried out with or by members of the public and is a key part of the research process. PPI contributors are involved at all stages of research design and interpretation. PPI provides input into interventions as members of the research team alongside other stakeholders, such as health professionals and behaviour change experts. 

Results: We advocate using qualitative research alongside PPI at all stages of intervention planning, development, and evaluation. We illustrate this with examples from recent projects developing complex health interventions, highlighting examples where PPI and PBA have pulled in different directions and how we have approached this, how PPI have helped optimise interventions based on PBA feedback, and how we have engaged PPI in community settings.

Conclusions: PPI provides a valuable alternative to the traditional researcher-led approaches, which can be poorly matched to the needs of target users. Combining PPI with the PBA can help to create optimally engaging interventions by incorporating a greater diversity of feedback than would have been possible to achieve through PPI or qualitative approaches alone.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34 (2019)
Number of pages8
JournalResearch Involvement and Engagement
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2019

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


  • Patient and public involvement
  • Person-based approach
  • Qualitative research


Dive into the research topics of 'Combining qualitative research with PPI: reflections on using the person-based approach for developing behavioural interventions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this