Last week, I gave the keynote talk at NHS Grampian’s Research and Development annual conference, which was held in the Suttie Centre on Tuesday, 4th December. The conference theme was public awareness of, engagement with and involvement in clinical research. My presentation was entitled ‘Public Engagement for Public Awareness: Sharing is caring’ and focused on my extensive experience of delivering public engagement events, use of social media to interact with a range of groups and press coverage of my research.
Central to my approach to this core component of our work – public engagement – is the ethos that dissemination is not an end product consisting of communicating research output, but instead an ongoing conversation with people about what we are doing. In my area, applied health research, through continuously engaging in a range of ways, it becomes possible to understand what people think of current health topics and research, and what matters to them, so that we can be responsive both in terms of the directions our research can take, but also the ways in which we co-create and share knowledge.
A spontaneous and most unwelcome coughing episode about halfway through emphasised that what we do is not just polished performances – or well-crafted, tidied up published papers we produce to report ‘packaged’ science – but, sometimes messy and very much human, ‘being’ and the learning that comes from it. I believe we should share insights into our ‘behind the scenes backstage’ if we want to really engage people with who we are and what it is we do and why or how it might be relevant to them. By sharing the journey, and science is a never ending journey, we as researchers can demonstrate that we care about the societies we belong to and serve – because we are sharing – and in doing so we can enhance awareness, enrich the meaningfulness of our work and truly benefit society.