Public engagement in research – just a buzz phrase or added value?

Hi All,

‘Public engagement’ …it’s one of those buzz phrases that we all come across through various avenues as researchers, from grant applications to demonstrating impact.  But is this just another tick box or can it provide real value to your research?

I give a resounding thumbs up to public engagement – in my healthcare research, I tend to think of as patient and public involvement (PPI).  As researchers’ it is so easy to drift into an academic bubble, lose sight of the relevance to wider settings of the questions we choose to ‘scientifically’ answer, and, become profoundly unable to communicate research in normal language.  Yet we commonly use public money to conduct our research, and generally aim to benefit society and the body of science in some way through the work we do.  Therefore, surely those that we aim to benefit should have input to the design and conceptualisation of our work. There are various degrees of involvement that the public might have in research, from an advisory role through to ‘co-investigators’.  One is not necessarily better than another, it is entirely context dependent.

For example, if I was planning to investigate the risk factors for depression amongst doctoral students then co-investigating this with doctoral students from the design to the dissemination of the work is likely to be worthwhile. The design of the study is likely to be more appealing to aid recruitment, the data collection stage more sensitive to participant needs, the analysis more relevant, and the dissemination more comprehensible to target audiences.   On the other hand, in conducting a study to investigate the association between a genetic anomaly and levels of a specific hormone in underweight babies, it would be appropriate for parents to act as advisers rather than involvement in data collection and analysis.  In both situations, PPI gives value to research through lived experience.

What I’m describing in this blog is just one of many aspects of public engagement for researchers to consider.  Nonetheless, whatever your area of research, I would argue that public engagement in research has become a practical and moral imperative.

If this is an area that interests you then please come along to Doctoral Discussion 2,

the ways and whys of public and community engagement as doctoral researchers’ on Tuesday 12th December 12.30-14.00pm in the Careers Seminar Room on the ground floor of the UoS library.

Please book your place here

Thanks for your attention and I look forward to seeing you on the 12th December!


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