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Engage 2011: Building connections, sharing ideas

Professor John Kirwan asks a question in the Q&A session

Professor John Kirwan asks a question in a Q&A session
Image by Dane Comerford

Engage is an annual event at the University of Bristol held to celebrate and share best practice in engagement. Held on 29 September 2011 the event was ably chaired by Kathy Sykes, Professor of Sciences and Society, with Professor Nick Lieven Pro-Vice Chancellor, setting the scene for public engagement at the University of Bristol.

The plenary speaker, Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, underlined the foundations of public engagement work, particularly its aims and benefits. Specific examples of engagement at the University of Bristol were then presented in the form of four case studies. 

First up was Dr Anne Cooke and Professor Bruce Hood with "Neuroscience in Bristol and beyond". Anne introduced the work of Bristol Neuroscience, a group which facilitates cross-disciplinary working in neuroscience primarily across Bristol but nationally and internationally as well. The group has coordinated Bristol’s contribution to Brain Awareness week for 8 years, working with At-Bristol to bring neuroscience research to the general public. Anne was keen to emphasise how their work has developed over the years; each year building on the exhibits, expertise and experience of the previous years. This was reinforced by Professor Hood who described how early opportunities in public engagement snowballed to further opportunities and to his presentation of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2011, a series titled ‘Meet your brain’.

All researchers would like their work to 'make a difference' and Dr Michael Naughton provided an excellent example of this with his inspiring case study "The Innocence Project”. Establishing the Innocence Network UK in 2004, Michael Naughton steers the University’s contribution to the Network by providing opportunities for undergraduates and postgraduates to investigate cases where long-term prisoners maintain factual innocence. Students gain first-hand experience of working on cases with the support of practising lawyers, forensic scientists and other experts, and prisoners and their families gain from having access to a expert teams willing to investigate their claims where appropriate.

If a questionnaire asks if you’re able to do your shopping, I don’t want people answering ‘Yes’ because they do it online, when they actually mean ‘No’ because they have problems walking and carrying. I want research to be ‘fit for purpose’ for the people taking part in it.

Bev Davis, Patient Partner
Professor John Kirwan and Bev Davis in their presentation about "Patient participation in Rheumatology" spoke about 10 years of work with patients who through their involvement as research partners have been able to, for example, co-author papers and research proposals and have a say in the development of ongoing research. In the words of Bev Davis, herself a Patient Partner, “I want research to be appropriate and unambiguous. If a questionnaire asks if you’re able to do your shopping, I don’t want people answering ‘Yes’ because they do it online, when they actually mean ‘No’ because they have problems walking and carrying.  So, I want it to be ‘fit for purpose’ for the people taking part in it. I want the research to be as good as it can be”. With input from Patient Partners the research becomes more clearly relevant to service users and contributes to greater research impact.

Martha Crean, Dr Angela Piccini and Dr Mike Fraser presented the final case study, "University of Local Knowledge", focusing particularly on the ULK seminars held in the summer of 2011 year to celebrate the knowledge and skills of residents in Knowle West. For example, a ‘Horse whispering’ seminar enabled local horse owners to explore equine welfare with University academics. ‘Classic cars and speed freaks’ brought one of the academics working on the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car together with local classic cars enthusiasts. Far away from standard venues these seminars took place in community-owned venues such as a car park, a pet shop and a resident’s front room. Over 850 short films capturing the talents and skills that exist within the Knowle West community have been made by Knowle West Media Centre as part of the ULK project. Speakers described their intention of making the films available for residents to co-organise and manage thus demonstrating the thought given to making the initiative sustainable over time with community ownership.

Dr Maggie Leggett, Head of the Centre for Public Engagement, concluded the formal part of the workshop with an overview of the resources available to researchers and their community partners. With a reminder of the support on offer from the Centre for Public Engagement (and others), delegates set about ‘building connections and sharing ideas’ over lunch and group discussions. With delegate feedback suggesting that the four case studies were particularly inspiring, the day ended with an anticipation of many more exciting projects and initiatives to come.

Further information:

The slides from this event are available for download from the Engage 2011 web page.
The University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement works with academics to engage the public through events, direct involvement in research and teaching, and other activities.
For further information please contact the Centre’s Academic Liaison Officer, Dr Kate Miller, on email: kate.miller@bristol.ac.uk tel: +44 (0)117 3318321.