Health research does not exist in a vacuum, and the importance of patient and public involvement should not be undervalued. We here at the HSRU created our Public Engagement Group (PEG) because we believe people should always stay at the centre of healthcare research. Only through community action can we better achieve healthfulness, and only by sharing our work more openly with the world can we better involve the public in research. This means pulling back the curtain, demystifying the authoritative lingo, and having pleasant and informative conversations with as many people as we can. By openly talking about what we do, we can wrestle the public conception of healthcare research away from the perceived illustrious, lab-coat-adorned scientist, and place it back into the realm of communal effort and collaborative work. Using a silly costume doesn’t hurt either.
“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough” (Attributed to Albert. E. Einstein)
Our mission with Exploratrial was simple: talk to people about trials. With each inquisitive glance, every passing chat, we could share not only the work of our unit, but also the key role that trials play in health care research. To explain that, in fact, improving healthcare is something we can all do, together. And to counter negative stereotypes which can be associated with the word “trial”, pulling off the monster mask of bad press to reveal its human face all along.
“And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling researchers!” (Attributed to negative stereotypes of trials)
To achieve this we set up shop alongside other researchers from the University of Aberdeen in the city centre, armed with coloured mints, badges, and a winning smile. We had previously created a miniature mock trial that served as an excellent vehicle to explain the processes of trials, how we do them, and why they are so important. This time however we were in competition with a bagpiper, who had chosen that day and location for his four hour public rehearsal. Unperturbed, we invited participants to select a ball at random, the colour of which determined the mint they would receive, ring the randomisation bell and rank their enjoyment of the mint. Extra emphasis on the bell ringing to show the bagpiper we meant business. By having this interactive and sensory experience, we found people were much more enthusiastic about our mission and genuinely interested in the work we were doing. The sound of the bell. The taste of the mint. The sight of our stunning and personable James Lind. By mixing up the mediums through which we engage people, and physically demonstrating what we were talking about, we were better able as researchers to communicate the importance of trials and necessity of community-orientated healthcare.
At the end of our time on the streets of Aberdeen we felt it had been a successful, if intensive, experience. Over a hundred people had been randomised, and over a thousand had stopped to interact in one way or another with our stall. The character of James Lind had even proved so popular that a camera crew approached for an interview. Take that, bagpiper. Events such as these however serve as more than just their individual experience, but contribute towards an on-going and ever growing effort amongst PEG to find new and innovative ways to engage the public with our research. Events such as these are the building blocks necessary to change the landscape of research towards a more inclusive and collaborative experience.