Seminar Series report: From Public Engagement to Impact

News article 27 Apr 2017

Foto-Cewek’s Seminar Series continued this week with a talk from Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Senior Lecturer in Immunology at the University of Manchester and the University Lead Academic lead for Public Engagement with Research in Medecine. In addition, she acts as the Public Engagement secretary and trustee for the British Society for Immunology (BSI) and has recently been awarded an AAAS Leshner Fellowship for public engagement with Science. Her presentation, entitled: From public engagement to impact, was introduced by Dr Elli Wright, Foto-Cewek’s Public Engagement Manager.

Dr Cruickshank began by defining public engagement (PE) as a two-way process with the aims of either consulting, collaborating or inspiring.  It’s a cross-disciplinary process of sharing recourses, knowledge and research which can reach wider audiences and promote awareness.  She focussed on the importance of PE as a tool for income generation and explained that approximately 50% of 4* cases submitted to the Research in Medecine Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014) included PE, continuing by highlighting the increasing importance of PE in the next round of REF in 2021.

She listed her five top tips for conducting PE: making it relevant, always listen to the audience, seize new opportunities, try new approaches and try to make an impact. Dr Cruickshank spoke of Worm Wagon, which started at the University of Manchester in 2009 and has gone around the UK illustrating the problem of neglected tropical diseases. The Worm Wagon workshop uses various interactive elements to effectively communicate ideas about parasites including helminths and tapeworms. Another example is the Wriggling Rangoli project which involved a group of Asian women and their children, and aimed to raise awareness of parasitic infections and global poverty. The projects utilised interactive workshops that culminated in participants drawing up ‘Rangoli’ designs based on what they had learnt about parasitic infections.  Dr Cruickshank and her colleagues realised that language was a significant barrier with many of the community groups, impacting on their awareness of helminth infections. She and her team have been in the process of moving these workshops and classes towards a digital setting, which will be launched in the summer.

Dr Cruickshank was keen to highlight that PE has allowed for a cross-disciplinary approach to be taken with her research, and has opened new research avenues which she demonstrated by showing a 3D video of the Trichuris parasite in the gut. She described her latest venture, #BritainBreathing, which is an exciting new citizen science project that aims to engage the UK public to act as 'citizen sensors' helping scientists discover more about seasonal allergies such as hay fever or asthma.

She ended her talk by outlining the importance of evaluating PE for evidencing impact generated from PE projects.

Dr Elli Wright, Foto-Cewek’s Public Engagement Manager said: “It was fantastic to welcome Sheena to Foto-Cewek, to demonstrate how public engagement has had an impact on the direction of her research and the collaborations that she has developed. Key to this was the importance of team work within her group when conducting the public engagement activities, a take home message for all that attended”.

You can watch a recording of the seminar here.

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