BACKGROUND: Patient and public involvement (PPI) has become enshrined as an important pillar of health services empirical research, including PPI roles during stages of research development and analysis and co-design approaches. Whilst user participation has been central to qualitative evidence synthesis (QES) for decades, as seen in the Cochrane consumer network and guidelines, meta-ethnography has been slow to incorporate user participation and published examples of this occurring within meta-ethnography are sparse. In this paper, drawing upon our own experience of conducting a meta-ethnography, we focus on what it means in practice to 'express a synthesis' (stage 7). We suggest the methodological importance of 'expression' in Noblit and Hare's seven stage process (Noblit, GW and Hare, RD. Meta-ethnography: synthesizing qualitative studies, 1988) has been overlooked, and in particular, opportunities for PPI user participation within it.
METHODS: Meta-ethnography comprises a seven-stage process of evidence synthesis. Noblit and Hare describe the final 7th stage of the meta-ethnography process as 'expression of synthesis', emphasizing co-construction of findings with the audience. In a previous study we conducted a meta-ethnography exploring patient and student experience of medical education within primary care contexts. We subsequently presented and discussed initial meta-ethnography findings with PPI (students and patients) in focus groups and interviews. We transcribed patient and student PPI interpretations of synthesis findings. As a research team, we then translated these into our existing meta-ethnography findings.
RESULTS: We describe, with examples, the process of involving PPI in stage 7 of meta-ethnography and discuss three methodological implications of incorporating PPI within an interpretative approach to QES: (1) we reflect on the construct hierarchy of user participants' interpretations and consider whether incorporating these additional 1st order, 2nd level constructs implies an additional logic of 3rd order 2nd level constructs of the QES team; (2) we discuss the link between PPI user participation and what Noblit and Hare may have meant by ideas of 'expression' and 'audience' as integral to stage 7; and (3) we link PPI user participation to Noblit and Hare's underlying theory of social explanation, i.e. how expression of the synthesis is underpinned by ideas of translation and that the synthesis must be 'translated in the audience's (user participants) particular language'.
CONCLUSIONS: The paper aims to complement recent attempts in the literature to refine and improve guidance on conducting a meta-ethnography, highlighting opportunities for PPI user participation in the processes of interpretation, translation and expression. We discuss the implications of user participation in meta-ethnography on ideas of 'generalisability'.