Panels and user groups guide

Panels and user groups can be useful consultative tools to gather feedback on services, issues, or projects that affect a particular community.

updated on 01 Nov 2023
5 minutes read


It’s important to ensure that the method you choose meets the purpose of your engagement, and that you can clearly articulate your purpose to potential publics. For panels and user groups purposes include:

  • To get regular feedback on services from service users
  • Explore the impact of the university on local residents
  • To test people’s response to changes, large projects or ideas for improvement
  • To identify people’s concerns and views about controversial research, especially groups who are less frequently heard from.
  • To provide a sounding board for new approaches
  • To engage in continuing dialogue with use communities about new technology.


Consider what you’re trying to achieve, who should be involved, and whether you want to regularly gather feedback, or consult at a single point in time.

Top tips

  • Think about your purpose before setting up a panel or user group. You should be able to clearly articulate and communicate this to the participants.
  • Who should be involved? User groups and panels should be representative of the population you are consulting, whether that is users of a service, employees of a company, or local residents affected by regeneration projects. Think carefully about who is in the room and who isn’t. How can you encourage or facilitate the attendance of a diverse group of participants? Which groups or organisations can help you do this? Consider factors like:
    • age
    • gender
    • ethinicity
    • socio-economic background
    • disability
  • Make it accessible. Have you considered childcare needs, accessibility, cost of travel, and appropriate timings?
  • Set clear expectations. What do you expect participants to contribute? How much time will it require? How will their contributions inform what you do? What will they get in return? What are the benefits to them and their communities?
  • Plan varied activities. You might want to use written, online and face to face opportunities for participants to express their views. This will help a people with different accessibility needs to make an equal contribution.
  • Capture feedback. Think about how you will record the feedback provided by participants, and make clear how you will use it.
  • Share the results. Think about and clearly communicate how you will present the results of your consultation back to the participants and the wider community, where appropriate.
  • Think about the effects of participation. Remember that participation in a group like this means that your participants may become more knowledgeable about a topic than others in their community or user group. Think about how this might impact the work you do together, how you can encourage them to share this knowledge, and whether you will replace panel members regularly.

Commonly used approaches

User groups

User groups are meetings of users of services or technologies who share their experiences, expectations and needs.

Usually a user group is organised in the form of a workshop and tends to work well with small groups of people. This allows interaction between the participants and ensures everyone has a chance to contribute their views. Groups of 8-12 work well and larger pools of users can be broken into smaller groups to be consulted on particular facets of an issue. User groups can be involved in a one-off event or for an ongoing process of consultation.

Citizen panels

Citizen Panels are consultative bodies representing a particular community. They can be used at a local level, for example where communities are affected by the operations of a department or institution, through parking issues, student accommodation or concerns about safety issues.

At a national or regional level, they can be used to gather feedback and develop and understanding of views about broad, controversial or poorly-understood research agendas.

Participants are normally recruited by random sampling, or door to door recruitment. Panel membership should be broadly representative of the population. 

Citizen panels tend to be part of an ongoing process of consultation, with activities including surveys, focus groups and workshops. Panel members usually stay on a panel 2-3 years, allowing the tracking of opinion over time. Citizen panels can range in size from a few hundred to several thousand people and can achieve high response rates.

Citizen juries

Citizen juries can be used to consult on a specific policy issue of public importance. They involve volunteer members of the public, researchers and policy makers coming together to debate and deliberate over research, policy evidence and expert opinion.

Citizen juries are unique as a method that supports citizens to develop their knowledge of a particular policy area. The citizen jury will question expert witnesses, deliberate and use collective discussions to reach a decision or set of recommendations on a particular policy issue. They typically take place over 1-4 days and involve anything from 8-16 citizens.

Citizen juries are a highly structured and intensive process, involving careful facilitation. Participants should be generally representative of the target population, and the outcome can provide an independent community input into decisions that affect the public. However, it is a method which is still relatively new in the UK and questions remain around issues such as data generalisability, ownership, and the authority and weight which should be given to citizen jury’s decisions or recommendations.

Other resources

Find out more information on these and other approaches to consultation in these additional resources.

The Shared Commitment to Public Involvement in health and social care

A joint commitment from The Health Research Authority, the National Institute for Health and Care Research and a host of organisations across the UK to bring about changes that will drive up standards in health and social care research.

Methods: Citizen juries
A guide to using citizen juries from Methods@Manchester, part of the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

Consultation methods
A comprehensive guide to different consultation techniques from Racial Equity Tools