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UCL Public Engagement Unit Blog



‘More than just giving information’: Public engagement and diabetes awareness in Nepal

By Briony Fleming, on 31 January 2019

This Blog has been written by Beacon Bursary awardee Joanna Morrison, for a project working with 10 artists from the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC) in rural plains Nepal and researchers from HERD International Nepal, who are conducting research about diabetes and healthy lifestyles.

On arrival in Nepal 16 years ago I was greeted with a “Namaste” from researcher Rajesh*.  As we drove through the hilly rice paddies of Nepal, he taught me Nepali language and about Nepali culture. He taught me that if we didn’t find somewhere to eat rice twice a day, it was like we hadn’t eaten at all, and he impressed me with the huge mountains of rice he could eat.

women working farming rice in Nepal

Female workers in a rice field in Nepal

Eating large quantities of rice and having a more sedentary lifestyle, particularly in urban areas, are key drivers of increasing rates of type 2 diabetes in Nepal. Reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat intake, stopping smoking, lowering stress levels and reducing alcohol intake are recommended to prevent diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (WHO, 2014).
Around 96 million adults in South Asia have diabetes, making it the region with the second highest rates of diabetes in the world (Cousins, 2017).

A few years ago, Rajesh was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He struggles to pay for regular medication and there are no trained health workers in the rural area where he lives and works. He has to spend time and money travelling to the capital, Kathmandu, for treatment and he is scared about how he will manage if his diabetes gets worse. He didn’t know how to prevent diabetes and family and friends offered conflicting dietary advice.

group of people in front of nepalese material

The team in Nepal

Rajesh is not unusual.

At a large government hospital in Kathmandu, Ms Nani Shova Shakya and Ms Renu Yadav counsel diabetes patients on how to live a healthy lifestyle to manage their diabetes. They see large numbers of men and women who are struggling to manage their diabetes through diet and lifestyle changes, who did not know how they got diabetes. There is an urgent need to increase knowledge and develop cost-effective, evidence-based interventions to prevent type 2 diabetes. I am working with a research organisation, HERD International, and with Nani Shova and her team to plan events which engage the general public and provide information about diabetes prevention and management in an easily understandable way.

Nepalese women with 'Diabetes concerns every family' T-shirts

The team in Nepal working to share information about Diabetes locally

Our first event was on world diabetes day in November 2018 where we provided free blood glucose testing, Body Mass Index calculation and nutrition counselling to anyone passing through the hospital grounds. To attract and engage people, exercise instructor Ms Preeti Rai led Zumba sessions throughout the day, and Mr Dinesh Deokota created a photo-story exhibit where people could hear the stories of those affected by diabetes, or listen to doctors giving advice.

Our quiz master asked people to vote with their feet, running to the ‘True’ or the ‘False’ areas as he tested their knowledge on diabetes prevention and management. We had art guessing games which demonstrated the symptoms of diabetes, and a voting stand where people could choose their preferred intervention to prevent diabetes. Interestingly only a few people were keen to receive mobile phone messages, or be counselled by their pharmacist, and the winning intervention was volunteer-run community groups which received 42% of the votes.

Nepalese man listens to recroding of Diebates experience

Man listening to the experience of someone with Diabetes

To design interventions that work, and are likely to be sustained, dialogue with people like Rajesh is essential. Public engagement involves more than just giving information, it promotes discussion, stimulates thinking, and brings people together in collaboration to increase knowledge, motivate behaviour change and promote opportunities to live healthily.


You can see a short video of our World Diabetes Day event below:

*name changed


Embedding citizen science at UCL: Interview with ‘Institutional Leader’ Muki Haklay

By Briony Fleming, on 29 January 2019

This is an interview with Muki Haklay, as part of our series focusing on the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, looking at previous winners and their experiences with Public Engagement. Muki won a Provost’s Award for Public Engagement in 2018 in the category ‘Institutional Leadership’

What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a Professor of Geographic Information Science at the Department of Geography. A major part of my job is co-directing the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) group and to a smaller extent being a director of Mapping for Change, a social enterprise that specialises in participatory mapping and citizen science. Through both, I am working with a brilliant group of researchers on developing new approaches to engage people from all walks of life in scientific projects that produce results which are meaningful and useful to the participants. The ExCiteS group includes geographers, anthropologists, computer scientists, human-computer interaction experts, ecologists, designers, community engagers, and administrative experts – it’s very diverse.

Headshot of Muki Haklay

2018 Winner of the Institutional Leader Award, Muki Haklay

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I came to UCL at the end of 1997, to study for a PhD in Geography, and I’m still here. I started my academic career at the Department of Geomatic Engineering (now part of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) and about two years ago moved to the Department of Geography.

You have previously won one of the Provost’s Award for Public Engagement here at UCL, what project was that for?
The Extreme Citizen Science group received an institutional leadership award in 2018 for the range of projects that we’re involved in – from working with forest communities in the Congo basin to record important local resources so they are protected from logging, to working across the street from UCL with the people and groups that are concerned with the impacts of air pollution and construction projects on their health.

Has winning the award changed things for you?
It was an honour and pleasure to be recognised by UCL, and it is something that is helpful to flag in different contexts (e.g. research applications), but it didn’t change things beyond that for now. Because public engagement is fundamental to the type of research that I and the group are doing, it is natural for us to continue and do the things that we do across the world.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
The top of my to-do list includes mostly research funding applications. The limited level of funding and the size of projects that support public engagement and citizen science are such that I need to be involved in many project applications to make ends meet. The result is a continuous effort to secure the necessary funding to keep all the talented people of ExCiteS together.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?
There are many, but if I think of those that I liked recently, then the album is Himmelmusik by L’Arpaggiata under the direction of Christina Pluhar; the film is Blade Runner 2049; and the novel is Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
I’ll share one that Alice Sheppard, ExCiteS community engagement officer, shared on our Slack group: I went to the library recently asking if they had the book about Pavlov’s dog and Schrödinger’s cat. The librarian said it rang a bell but she wasn’t sure if they had it or not.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?
George Frideric Handel, Senesino (a castrato that worked with him), Francesca Cuzzoni (a soprano that worked with him), and then I would sit back, watch the sparks, and listen to the gossip of the music scene in London at the time. Probably I wouldn’t understand a thing.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Always be nice to anyone who come and ask for help, regardless of whether they are undergraduates or professors. Some of the best collaborations and research opportunities evolved for me this way.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I studied to play the piano for 9 years in my childhood and teenage years. I still hope to get back and learn to play the harpsichord one day.

What is your favourite place?
Jerusalem, where I was born. Like many ex-Jerusalemites, I love the city and find it upsetting at the same time. As the late Israeli author Amos Oz pointed, if you live there for 3 years, you get a degree in comparative fundamentalism.


You can read more about the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, including seeing previous winners, on our website. You can also read about fellow previous Provost’s Award winner, Sophie Scott in this Spotlight On… 

From Provost’s Award to brain imaging in rural Gambia: Interview with Clare Elwell

By Briony Fleming, on 21 January 2019

This is an interview with Claire Elwell, as part of our series focusing on the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, looking at previous winners and their experiences with Public Engagement. Claire won a Provost’s Award for Public Engagement in 2012 in the category ‘Established Career Academic/Research’

What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a Professor of Medical Physics in the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering. I lead a research group developing new methods for imaging the brain and I’m currently running the BRIGHT (Brain Imaging for Global Health) project in Africa to understand the impact of malnutrition on infant brain development

headshot of Clare Elwell

Previous Provost’s Award winner, Clare Elwell

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL for 28 years! Prior to that I worked as a clinical physicist in the NHS.

You have previously won one of the Provost’s Award for Public Engagement here at UCL, what project was that for?
I won a Provost’s Award in 2012 for my work engaging a range of audiences with medical physics and bio-engineering. This included leading an exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and doing stand-up comedy as part of the Bright Club, Science Show Off and Pint of Science.

Has winning the award changed things for you?
The award was a good opportunity to show how UCL values public engagement and it opened my eyes to the huge range of activities that are being undertaken by staff and students across the college. It’s also been great to encourage other members of my department to get involved. One of my colleagues, Ilias Tachtsidis has set up a brilliant initiative called Metabolight which is developing really innovative ways to show how light can be used to diagnose and monitor brain injury in newborn infants.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list
I’m really proud of my BRIGHT team who have set up an open day at the field station in rural Gambia where we are running our brain imaging studies. They worked with the African field staff to put together activities to engage families from the local community. They are now planning to roll these activities out at range of events and festivals in the next few months. Their work is a great example of cutting across cultural boundaries and thinking really carefully about how to engage with different audiences.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Depends on which day you’re asking. Today it would be Paloma Faith’s Fall from Grace, Little Miss Sunshine and Far From the Madding Crowd.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Schrödinger gets pulled over by the police for speeding. The officer looks over the car and asks if there’s anything in the boot. “A cat” replies Schrödinger. The officer opens the boot and says “This cat is dead”. Schrödinger sighs and says “It is now”.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?
My Irish grandmother – I miss her pearls of wisdom

What advice would you give your younger self?
Be bolder

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I’ve been on a fear of flying course

What is your favourite place?
Anywhere I can do some open water swimming


You can read more about the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, including seeing previous winners, on our website. You can also read about fellow previous Provost’s Award winner, Sophie Scott in this week’s Spotlight On… 

When two become one: ways to ‘spice up’ creating collaborations

By Briony Fleming, on 14 January 2019

This Blog has been written by Lizzy Baddeley: Project Manager (EPSRC Community Engagement), who is leading the Trellis project. Trellis is exploring methods for knowledge exchange between university and community partners.

So, what’s the best way to bring together a group of artists and a group of researchers who have never met before to help them build connections, identify shared interests and think about working together? and one that doesn’t involve too many post it notes or presentations about everyone’s work? This was the challenge facing the Community Engagement team in December 2018, when we were trying to kick off our Trellis: Public Art project – a nine month project which will result in four co-created artworks being exhibited in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in October 2019.

In UCL Culture we are always looking for new ways to spark collaborations between our staff and students and people outside the university, especially those who are not traditional partners in research or learning. This was an opportunity to do just that.

We worked with Rosie Murdoch, an independent arts consultant and curator, based in Tower Hamlets, to identify a group of artists based in, or closely tied to, the area around the future UCL East campus. And I had managed to convince a varied group of UCL staff and research students that it might be a nice idea to work on a project with an artist, but then we had to bring them together and find out whether they had any shared interests or interest in working together. A date was identified for an initial matchmaking event, 10th December 2018, and everyone was invited, and we tossed around some ideas of a format.

There were a few things that I was set on making sure happened:
1. The artists and UCL staff/students came into the project on an equal footing
2. Input from both sides would be equally valued
3. Everyone would get the chance to talk about themselves and their own work
4. Everyone would get the chance to meet as many other people at the event as possible
5. The event would be fun, informal and enjoyable, even if some people decided not to participant in the project going forward.

So what did we do?

1) A facilitated walk of the Olympic Park

Project participants walk around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Trellis Art Project participants walk around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The venue for the event was Stour Space, a community arts venue just over the river from the Olympic Park, in Hackney Wick. This meant it was easy to take everyone off for a walk around the park as the first activity. We wanted the walk to act as an icebreaker and a chance for people to start talking informally. I had prepared an activity – collaborating to fill in a map of the park in small groups – but we ended up not doing this, and just naturally chatting. It was a great way to share peoples past experiences of the location with each other, and the situate the event in the place where the art would end up being displayed, but it was very loosely facilitated and I think some people found it hard to start up or maintain conversations for the whole duration.

2) A ‘speed dating’ style networking session

Artists and researchers undertaking a speed dating activity

‘Speed-dating’ activity at Stour Space

After returning to Stour Space, we warmed up, and then got everyone settled into a speed dating style networking activity. We had set up two rows of chairs facing each others, with the UCL staff/student in one row, and the artists in the other. Every 4 minutes, the UCL staff/students had to stand up and move along. It was absolute chaos! But somehow it worked. There were loads of things I would change another time, like how close each pairing was sat(which meant it ended up being far too loud) and the fact there were more UCL people than artists, which skewed the experience – and made it take a little longer than anticipated. However, overall it did a great job of getting all the artists to meet all the researchers and focussed people around what they were interested in. They all reported finding it very tiring, but luckily, the next part of the day was the most relaxing! Even though it was tiring I do think, overall, the activity added an important structured element to the event.

3) A shared meal

Networking at Stour Space

Participants drinking and networking at Stour Space

The final ‘activity’ we did, if it can be called that, was simply sharing a meal with each other. The idea was that those who had found some connections in the matchmaking would naturally sit with each other and continue to talk. We had provided some prompt questions, in the guise of a menu, to aid anyone who was not sure what to talk about. This felt like a nice way to end the event, the feedback we got didn’t focus all that much on the eating, possibly because to the participants it didn’t feel like an ‘activity’. However, the amount of conversation in the room was high, and we even found it hard to get some people to stop talking when the day was over!

people eating dinner and getting to know each other

Participants networking over dinner at Stour Space

So did it all work? Well, the real proof will be at the end of January, when those who wish to begin working together on potential art collaborations need to submit their ideas. But for now, I think we can say it worked well enough. While the feedback we received on the day, and later, was constructive, it was also positive. The event was probably better suited to those who were confident taking the initiative to start conversations, and there were a few people who suggested moving the walk until after a more formal ice breaking activity, so that it was not the first thing people did.

You can watch all about the event, and what we’re trying to do in this short film, made for us by east London filmmaker ‘i say RAAR’

So we will learn, and continue to develop tools for bringing potential partners together. What we have learnt from this day will be applicable not only to artists/researchers collaborations, but also more widely in kicking off collaborations. This learning will be fed into our wider project and help inform the Trellis: Community Partnership Building Event funding!

You can find out more about the Trellis: Public Art on the UCL Culture site, along with other activity in the wider Trellis: Growing Community University Partnership programme.

Co-creation, reflection and challenging the status quo! What’s next for the Centre for Co-pro?

By Niccola K Hutchinson Pascal, on 20 December 2018

Hey everyone 🙂 So I thought it was about time that I share some (of the many!) thoughts spinning around in my head! Sorry for those of you that have already been subjected to my reflective thinking!

Eight flamingos drinking from a lake, their image is reflected in the water they are standing in (Image credit: Scene360.com)

It’s been a little over a year since we started out on this journey to co-produce the set up of the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research… that went quick! As a Centre we want to champion genuine co-production of health research, services and policy development and build a case to support this way of working where there is genuine sharing of power and decision-making. What have we learnt so far? And, what specifically have I learnt? If I had to distil it down to one sentence, I’d say…

Co-production takes commitment but it is oh so worth it! If done in a genuine way the mutual benefit and the visible difference it makes to those involved (including you and me) is immense!

Group session with people discussing Centre development plans – posit notes and papers are all over the table

What are these visible differences am I talking about? As part of the Centre development work, we are working hard to build the ‘case’ for working in this way so that we can start to mobilise more support for the use of co-production in research. It’s early days but I would say it is becoming clear (from our work to date and previous work by others) that… co-production/co-creation improves the practical applicability of outcomes, it builds trust, it improves relationships between all groups involved, and it contributes to more cohesive communities. The communities that we are ALL a part of.

What are some of the challenges?

As with any project, there are always challenges. We are working hard to ensure we are embracing genuine, authentic co-production – we don’t get it right all the time but the key thing is that we are all learning from each other (plus some great projects that are already live) and developing as a team along the way. No judgement or target chasing here! One challenge in particular is ensuring the sharing of power and breaking down of hierarchies. Let’s be honest, UCL is a huge hierarchical institution, and the funding from Wellcome Trust for this project is sitting within it, which has resulted in challenges – people sometimes feel uncomfortable (perhaps due to preconceptions or past experience) to question the organisation and or the way public engagement and patient public involvement has previously been done. How do we break this down, level the playing field and ensure that shared decision-making can take place? Well, if you ask us we would say that we don’t always get it right but we are a team and are open and honest about the challenges, we work through each one as a team until we find a practical solution. We set up co-creation sessions (using facilitated group work) so that everyone in the team knows that their views are of equal importance and has equal chance to have their say. We each have a unique set of skills and experience that we bring to the team. Relationship building and us all feeling we can trust each other, is key to ensuring that we all feel comfortable in pushing the boundaries. In addition, we are regularly talking to people from across UCL and the local community of Somers Town (plus more widely) about the aims and objectives of this project in order to raise it’s profile (more work to do on this in 2019!). UCL are 100% committed to this work (and the large amount more that we need to do!) and as a team of collaborators, we are clear that we want to challenge the status quo within health research – full stop.

Illustration of the different roles in a co-production team (Credit: Beth Ingram, Common Room)

Back in August we assessed applications and chose (as a mixed group of Centre collaborators that included patients, carers, local residents, students, researchers, and healthcare professionals) to fund four pilot projects. As a Review Team we put our trust in each other and as a result came out with a cracking set of pilots that are helping us to address practical questions around how we go about setting up the Centre. The learning from all of these pilots will be fed back into the development of the Centre (you can read more about this in our last blog). I’m pleased to share that there is also one more pilot funded by partner organisation Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre (thanks Moorfields!) that is now part of the fold! Sorry it took me so long to share! I recently caught up with research nurse Jac (who is part of the pilot team) for the ‘We Ci2i – We Co-design interventions 2 improve’ project, for a chat. Here is what she had to say after she attended one of the Centre training programme development co-creation sessions…

It was so great to be in a room with like-minded people and being part of an innovative movement. It helped me understand more about the Centre, what it is all about and the direction it is heading. The session was fun and the facilitators were excellent at getting us all working together. We had really useful discussions on our tables about hurdles we may face trying to co-produce and thinking through what a successfully co-produced piece of work would look like.

It was really interesting hearing Common Room highlight how some people work in this way (i.e. utilising co-production) naturally, without even thinking about it; these types of people wouldn’t approach a project in any other way. I identify with this approach and perhaps naively assumed everyone would be on board with a project developed in this way. However, it is not until you start trying, that you realise some constraints in the bureaucracy of research, act as difficult barriers to navigate.

Co-creating a learning programme and supporting resources

Around the same time that we funded the pilot projects, we also took the same collective approach to deciding which organisation to appoint to help us in co-creating a training programme and supporting materials to help us learn. As a mixed group of Centre collaborators the organisation that we took on is…. Common Room!

Common Room logo

Meet the team at Common Room

Hi. I’m Kate. I run Common Room, an organisation which seeks to bring together people who have lived experience of disabilities and health conditions, researchers and healthcare providers to improve services and ensure that people have more choice and control in their lives.

Hi there, I’m Beth. Because of my own experiences of serious mental health issues and being a carer, I now run a peer support charity called Hearts & Minds. I am also a young advisor for Common Room and have a YouTube channel called Community Conversations (make sure you check it out!) about all things to do with youth work, mental health, disability & lived experience. I am passionate about improving the situations that marginalised or ‘vulnerable’ people often face and believe that the best solutions come from community, collaboration & honesty.

So… what’s next for the Centre?

The holiday break! Yes! 🙂 And, after this… well, we will be getting back on it of course! There is plenty to do. We are going to be doing some big picture thinking, we have plans to bring together a group of funding bodies, from health research and wider, to start to tackle the ‘bureaucracy of research’ as Jac put it. We want to kick start a conversation (and action!) about the constraints current funding application methods and processes put on groups who want to co-produce and how we might change these. In addition, we will be starting work on a website for the Centre and exploring names, logo’s etc. Exciting times!

One other thing…. have you heard about the UCL Provost’s Public Engagement Awards? As you may be aware, the Centre development is part of a wider culture change piece of work to bring UCL together as an institution and to ensure it is more outward looking. To work towards embedding public engagement, patient public involvement and co-production as a standard part of research/way of doing things within the university. Therefore, the awards are a perfect opportunity to amplify our message by highlighting some of the great co-production/co-creation work going on! They are open for applications from both community partners and UCL staff and students – go for it! If you have any questions feel free to contact me, Niccola.

The Centre is very much open to all who want to be involved, please feel free to get in touch if you want to join us.

Thanks for an amazing 2018 everyone, happy holidays! Looking forward to 2019!!

Our trip north of the wall: reflections on 2018 Engage conference

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 12 December 2018

“Twas the month before Christmas, when all through the UK
The public engagement professionals were coming out to play”

Every November, the UCL Engagement team makes a yearly pilgrimage to the Engage conference, a national gathering of engagement professionals organised by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).

It’s a chance for us to take some time out and reflect on our year in engagement, hear from others about their successes and failures, and to think about the future. This year, it was also a great chance for some of the newer members of our team to learn more about the public engagement sector as a whole.

In 2018, the conference was held in Edinburgh over the final two days of November, which was a great setting and meant that there were lots of different faces to the last few years’ location of Bristol. It was also the 10th anniversary of both the NCCPE and much of our public engagement activity, which is highlighted in our series of blog posts on the UCL 10 year public engagement anniversary. As such there was much reflection on what has gone before, and where we might be in another decade.

Here are some team reflections on what we learnt:

Lizzy Baddeley – Project Manager in Community Engagement (East) team

The highlight for me was a really interesting session about ethics and public engagement, co-hosted by Sarah Anderson (University of Edinburgh) and Dawn Smith (Edinburgh Napier University). Ethical engagement is something that our team has been thinking about a lot this year.

In the university sector, research involving living participants or data coming from living participants must gain ethical approval to ensure that the research conforms with general ethical principles and standards. This involves submitting the detail of your research to an ethics committee for review.

Public Engagement activity naturally involves working with living participants, but if this engagement is not directly feeding into research, then where a researcher might need to seek ethical approval for their public engagement project is not clear.

But what if an engagement activity does turn into part of the research further down the line?

Even more importantly, what guidelines should a researcher follow when it comes to thinking about how to ethically run their engagement, regardless of whether there is an official board to review their practice?

And above this, who is saying what is ethical? Whose ethics are we conforming to?

All these questions were raised and as a group we thought about some of the implications of these questions, and possible solutions.

For me, this was a fantastic opportunity to think about how we could involve external communities in the process of setting ethical standards and the review of activities. So watch this space!

Louise Dredge – Public Engagement Manager, School of Laws, Arts and Humanities, Social and Historical Sciences and the Institute of Education

There were a couple of things I experienced that stayed with me. Firstly the discussion and examples in the session between Val McDermid (best-selling crime writer) and Niamh Nic Daéid, (Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science, University of Dundee) on Learning by Narrative and using stories as a means of explaining complex things.

Secondly, in the Facing the Future plenary session, Nike Jonah‘s spoke about Standpoint Theory, an important concept in thinking about where knowledge lies in communities. This theory posits that the further you are from the centre of power, the more you know. As an outsider to the dominant group you have to understand the viewpoints of that group or groups in order to get by, whereas those at centre of power don’t necessarily have to reflect on orinclude more marginalised groups.

Finally, I was very interested in the statistics shared by Jennifer Wallace from Carnegie UK Trust around the trust in academic evidence vs how much it is used. Their evidence suggests that 63% of public policy and practice professionals trust academic evidence, but only 35% actually use it. We need to rethink how we share academic outputs as well as co-create research to allow this figure to change.

Helen Craig – Public Engagement Manager, School of Life and Medical Sciences

I really appreciated the session on training with Helen Featherstone (University of Bath); Heather Lusardi (NCCPE). There were some good discussions on co-producing training with external communities and what that would look like, as well as sharing methods to produce a cohort, which is something we would like to do better.

The Science Theatre session was also very interactive and involved mime, which was a fun change on a Friday afternoon!

Georgia Pitts – Public Engagement Manager, School of Bartlett, Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Day two was a bounty of good practice and useful ideas to take forward into what we do here at UCL. I also attended the session run by Helen Featherstone and Heather Lusardi, which was all about public engagement training for researchers. I’m responsible for leading on our training provision this year, so this was top of my list of sessions to attend – and it didn’t disappoint. We talked about how we can ‘practice what we preach’ and co-produce the training we offer with researchers, with a learner-centred model. This would ensure that our training is really hitting the mark in terms of addressing needs in the researcher community. A hot topic of discussion was how we can match skills development through training with opportunities to try out engagement – something which we have been mulling over here for some time, and as a result of this session I’m excited to have some points of reference to draw on. Watch this space!

Briony Fleming – Community Engagement Manager (East)

I personally enjoyed learning a bit more about Affirmative Inquiry – a process of thinking of things in a positive light from delivery to design to destiny, as a tool for both forward planning and strategising. This helps to move you out of situations where people can often default to being negative when reflecting or planning.

I also enjoyed Edinburgh itself, not just because of the food, but because I think it’s good to move away from the south of England where often big conferences are based.

Finally I enjoyed the ‘Public Engagement Card Deck’ creative project planning tool from University of Birmingham – which I have been telling everyone about. It allows you to think about scenario-planning and taking perspective in the form of a game, which allow you to collectively think through some of the challenges and opportunities in a scenario you have been dealt from the pack. It was good at highlighting how often public engagement activities have to respond to things beyond their control! Hopefully we can think about ways to include this in our training

Marie Xypaki – Curriculum and Public Engagement Consultant

I enjoyed the Engaged Learning session delivered by Bristol University and Bristol Green Capital. It was very interesting to see existing approaches to public engagement in university teaching and learning and it seems that there is great work on embedding a real-life challenge to dissertations.

There doesn’t seem to be concrete work around embedding engagement into the whole of the curriculum which gives space for innovation.
It was also very interesting for me, as someone new to my role, to see how diverse the practice around Public Engagement is and that there isn’t one definition or approach. Engage gave me the opportunity to reflect a lot around public engagement and how we deliver it in the sector. I’m still pondering…

“If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?”

By Briony Fleming, on 28 November 2018

 This blog has been written by Josie Mills: a student engager currently undertaking a PhD in Archaeology.

What is a Student Engager? There are 17 of us in total, who you might meet and chat to in any of the three museums around campus: UCL Art Museum, the Grant Museum or the Petrie Museum. We are PhD students at UCL and work as Engagers to communicate aspects of our research – and information about the museum collections – to visitors.

I’m an archaeologist studying stone tools made by Neanderthals, using different scientific techniques to work out where the rock came from. The information from these lithics (stone tools) can be used to explore aspects of prehistoric life, particularly movement and subsistence in changing landscapes. Student Engagers work in all three UCL museums, making connections between our PhD research and the collections. We also chat about what we do and objects from the museums on the Research Engager Blog.

When I first started working I adapted well to the Petrie Museum, whose oldest artefacts are stone tools, and the Grant Museum where several hominin casts are on display. UCL Art Museum on the other hand was a bit of a challenge. However, part of working as a Student Engager is adapting themes of our research to different situations. Last year UCL Art Museum held an exhibition of work by Slade School of Art students, including art by Cyrus Hung, who collected debris from the Slade studios and collated it in sketchbooks. These discarded items, including food wrappers and doodles, provided an insight into the human process of creating art, without showing the outcome. The work resonated with me because archaeology is very similar: we use items that have been left behind and removed from their systemic context, to reconstruct past behaviour.

Paleolithic Artefacts in the Petrie Museum

These are the oldest artefacts in the Petrie Museum they were made around half a million years ago.

As PhD students we specialise to an unusual degree, spending a lot of time alone in a lab or writing at a desk. Working as a Student Engager is very different, it throws our research – and us – open to a wide and diverse audience. We are asked, why is our niche subject relevant? Why is it interesting? In relation to the museums, we’re asked, why can’t we read hieroglyphs? Why don’t we know the Latin name of this bivalve?

It took time for all of us to realise which parts of our work are interesting to others and will support a meaningful discussion. A lot of what I do is tied up in our human prehistory, particularly discussing Neanderthals and their behaviour. I am a staunch defender of Homo neanderthalensis and love to tell visitors that most of them are 2-4% Neanderthal. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, ‘How did the Neanderthals become extinct?’ A traditional academic answer to this would be, there are many contributing factors like climatic fluctuation, low genetic diversity, and potential competition with humans. But as we have inherited Neanderthal DNA, maybe ‘extinct’ is not the right word and ‘assimilated’ is a better term. This answer is not always well-received. Someone once said to me, ‘If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?’ and that’s a valid question. Even though I might not use the term ‘extinct’, a representation of the archetypal Neanderthal doesn’t walk among us today.

Skull of Neanderthal Man

La Chapelle-Aux-Saints Neanderthal cast held at the Grant Museum – notice the pronounced brow ridge over the eye sockets.

On a lighter note, everyone (yes, even adults) is a little obsessed with toilet humour. In archaeology we talk a lot about preservation; the ability of artefacts to preserve is key to us finding them. This is particularly difficult in deeper prehistory as lots of factors, such as water and microbes, lead to decomposition. Preservation is fantastic in Egypt because the climate is arid and even organic material endures. This is something I like to talk about with visitors and I often begin with the bias that results from poor organic preservation then segue into a conversation about stone tools. Recently I was asked, ‘Well, what did the Egyptians do about the toilet, then?’ Initially stumped, I realised this visitor envisioned a catastrophic situation where all Ancient Egyptian poo was preserved, creating mountains of desiccated effluence for archaeologists to discover. When I talk about preservation I think of artefacts, but this person worried instead about a very basic human aspect of preservation.

This is what has influenced my PhD work most: the importance of human-ness and relatability, using imagery and bringing to life initially mundane things. I am continually surprised by how much people want to know about evolution, and this has forced me to keep up to date with paleoanthropological work, making me a better researcher. New findings and insights can change the narrative of our evolution in the blink of an eye. These key aspects of archaeological and anthropological research interest people and mustn’t be lost in a swathe of rocks, pollen, dirt and bone. Talking to visitors influences how we present our PhD projects whilst at the same time enriching their museum experience, providing expert knowledge disseminated in an accessible way. The idea of focused research presented in a framework of its wider relevance is crucial to the Student Engager role and it’s what we do every week across UCL’s museums.

Training, Networking, and Co-production: a reading week marathon.

By Briony Fleming, on 21 November 2018

Today we’re looking back at reading week, and some of the activity the UCL Engagement Team delivered. We were all hands on deck with a week of events and training to support researchers and staff improve and develop their skills and understanding of Public Engagement.

Public Engagement: Skills and Practice.
On Wednesday 7th November, we ran our full-day training course for the second time. Public Engagement: Skills & Practice is designed to be a practical and immersive one-day introduction to public engagement for staff and post-graduates students at UCL. The morning plenary offered an introduction to the Engagement Team and our role as well as hearing from a range of speakers and their own experiences of Public Engagement.

Esfand Burman spoke of his work through UCL IEDE and the Engineering Exchange supporting local residents to push for better standards in their housing and dealing with overheating. He talked of having to find way of explaining complex and technical details in a way that meant residents understood the options for heating and ventilation in their housing and were therefore better placed to lobby for more effective solutions to their issues with their local council.
Anne Laybourne followed on and spoke about her ‘first click’ on the Public Engagement Network newsletter, how this led to her becoming involved in one of our flagships programmes the Evaluation  Exchange, and this experience influencing her decision to move in a completely different direction and ultimately to a career change. She emphasised having to work hard to carve out the time to undertake public engagement in her role as a fixed term researcher and called for this space to be made more readily available.
Finally we heard from Tse-Hui Teh who talked animatedly about when it all goes wrong. She led us through a journey of her trials and tribulations in a range of public engagement projects, from partnership breakdowns, to unreasonable budgets, and taking on too much work. Importantly she spoke about what she learnt from each of these instances, and how each piece of public engagement she undertook was informed by the last. Despite the rocky road she felt that her public engagement activity was essential to her research, and that the good far outweighed the bad.

Anne Laybourne presenting at PESP

After Lunch, delegates broke into a series of workshops. Each designed to target a different public engagement skill, participants chose which workshop they felt most suited their public engagement journey and development needs. The sessions included:

  • Get Funded. How to plan, write, and critique your public engagement application for funding.
  • Creative Ideas Generation. How to generate ideas and be creative with your public engagement.
  • Evaluation What? How? Why? How to plan, design and deliver high quality evaluation of your Public Engagement Activity
  • Making Public Engagement Projects Happen. How to deliver high-quality project management of your Public Engagement from planning to delivery.

For more information, or to have the slides and resources from the day, please send us an email

Centre for Co-Production: co-creation of training and resources.

Following on from PESP, we were back to it, with team member Niccola Hutchison Pascal, and the UCL centre for Co-production in Health Research delivering a session looking at how we co-create training and resources for the centre.

Post-it notes and snacks on a table

The session brought together a wide range of voices and a number of those running Centre for Co-Production Pilot projects to think about what useful resources look like, and how training should be co-created to be useful and responsive.Discussion centred around topics around how to make training inclusive, intersting and accessible. Suggestions for multi-media approaches, diverse training leads, and producing resources that could be adapted to lots of situations were all highlighted as important factors.  The conversation throughout the morning was fruitful, and varied and we look forward with anticipation to see what is produced. Watch this space for more information and updates!

Read more about the centre and the pilot projects on our blog

Creating Connections East.

Last but not least we delivered the latest in our regular networking event, Creating Connections. The event brought together representatives from UCL, UEL (University of East London), and east London’s Voluntary Community Sector Organisations (VCSOs) to talk around a number of themes. This was the sixth Creating Connections that we have run in east London and was delivered with UCL Public Engagement, Students’ Union UCL Volunteering Service , UEL , and London Borough of Newham Community Neighbourhood Team. Discussions were had around 5 themes of: Youth Safety and Youth Opportunity, Technology for Good, Literacy and English as a Second Language, Women in Leadership and Heritage and East London. Participants joined two groups each for 25 minutes after which was a quickfire feedback (1.5 minutes per table) followed by a more informal networking session. We were joined by almost 60 participants  covering a wide range of disciplines and interests.

The best bit for me was definitely the conversations and group introductions. It was wonderful to see all the positive work taking place

Table discussion at Creating Connections East

If you are interested in finding about about any of our future events, workshops or training, follow us on twitter or sign up to our monthly  newsletter.

Who cares if bleeding gums worsen diabetes and heart disease?

By Niccola K Hutchinson Pascal, on 12 November 2018

This blog has been written by UCL Centre for Co-Production in Health Research Pilot Team Members – Heather, Ian, Brian and Francesco

Cartoon image of gums bleeding (Image credit: geelongmedicalgroup.com.au)

Everyone’s gums bleed, right?

So what’s the deal? Well, for most people bleeding means gum problems and in around half could affect smiling and chewing by damaging the bone around the teeth and causing the gum line to shrink up. You can prevent it with coaching in self-care from your dental team. Once it has taken hold it is very treatable in the early stages.

Your mouth is connected to your body and the connection works both ways, particularly in diabetes

It is now clear that gum disease can worsen diabetes health and increase the risk of complications including heart disease. In the opposite direction, diabetes can worsen gum disease. New research has just been published in The Lancet, from University College London, Eastman Dental Institute led by Francesco D’Aiuto. The results show that intensive treatment of gum health can improve blood sugar levels in diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease. Remarkably, the effect is similar to diabetes medicines. It seems to work by reducing the inflammation in the body that is caused by the bacteria in severe gum disease.

Lead researcher, Francesco D’Aiuto said:

‘Around 4 million people are living with diabetes in the UK the number is rising rapidly. Half of the population have some form of a gum condition which could affect their diabetes. Making it easier for people to have better control of their diabetes health is powerful and could also save our NHS millions of pounds. We are excited by the research results and now need to test how well it works in the community’.

We need to work together to design better research: Co-pro

People holding a sign that says – Co-production on it (Image credit: franohara.com)

The next stage of research will test how well the treatment works when given in the same way as could be rolled out across the country. However, it is extremely difficult to get the design of the research right and health professionals will have very different opinions from people living diabetes. So, we have set things up differently, as a co-production. This means that our planning team includes patients, members of the community, diabetes and cardiovascular health professionals, gum health professionals and clinical trial statisticians. Co-production means that we make decisions together.

Brain Potter commented:

‘As a member of the public and part of this team, it is important to me that health researchers look at the effect of the teeth and gums on peoples’ health. They must affect each other in some way. I hope this research will get people thinking about how they can work together across different health areas’.

This is a new approach to research design and we are also learning how best to do it. What is extremely helpful is the support from the University College London, Centre for Co-Production in Health Research and it’s fair to say that we are all learning together.

Heather Johnson a councillor with Camden, one of the team said:

‘As someone with diabetes, I think this is an exciting project to work with. Local community members like me have an important part in bringing in the views of the community and especially those with diabetes’.

Come and join us on 19 November

The Living Centre logo

Please join us for some food and an informal meeting to discuss the research at The Living Centre, 2 Ossulston Street, London NW1 1DF near Kings Cross station, 19 November, 3.00-5.00pm (we are happy refund your travel expenses). We would welcome a broad range of ideas to help with the project including from people living with diabetes, GPs, diabetes nurses, pharmacists, dentists, hygienists and health and social support workers. To get you started, these are just some of the issues that we have identified as particularly important. You may have further ideas:

1. How can we recruit people with gum disease to the study from diabetes clinics and GP practices?
2. What would encourage people with diabetes to seek gum treatment in the study?
3. What would help people in the study to keep up their daily gum care and to come back for follow-up visits over the two years of the project?
4. What type of care should we compare the people receiving the gum treatment with? What is routine or community care for gum health?
If you are thinking of coming please let our project coordinator know if you would like to take part: l.hakobyan@ucl.ac.uk.

We look forward to seeing you on 19 November!

Heather Johnson, Camden Council
Ian Needleman, University College London, Eastman Dental Institute
Brian Potter, Islington Leaseholders Association
Francesco D’Aiuto, University College London, Eastman Dental Institute

Creativity and Impact: Public Engagement Network Meeting

By Briony Fleming, on 29 October 2018

This post has been written by Helen Craig: Public Engagement Manager (SLMS)

Does evaluation for impact always have to mean a questionnaire? The latest Public Engagement Network meeting was all about Creative Methods for Evaluating Impact, so that’s the question 20 UCL researchers came together to explore on Wednesday October 10 2018. Dr. Gemma Moore and Lizzie Cain from the Evaluation team in UCL Culture teamed up to give an overview of their work and introduce us to the “so what” test: an effective method for getting to the difference you hope to make with your activities. They emphasised that public engagement can be a pathway to any type of impact – from health and wellbeing, to economic and commercial – and that evaluation is only useful as long as it’s useful to you. We then heard from two guests who had experience in creatively evaluating their events.

Dr. Helen Stark, Research Impact Manager at UCL, gave a peek behind the curtain for how she evaluated an evening event looking into people’s emotional experiences with objects. The evaluation was run through the event like a watermark with each stall featuring a chance to leave feedback, often in the form of participatory art, and a final evaluation stand that was designed like a huge game of mousetrap.
Anne Crisp spoke next, sharing her personal experiences with creatively evaluating events and a checklist of over 30 possible methods of doing so. Anne works in Community Development at Aston-Mansfield, a Charity based in the London Borough of Newham which delivers a range of services for children, young people and families in east London. Over her career Anne has arranged everything from walk and talk sessions with young adults, to gathering feedback on paper tablecloths from family groups.  Attendees then had the chance to put what they’d learnt into practice with small group sessions facilitated by the engagement team, creating sample evaluation plans and discussing past projects.

If you were unable to attend you can  still download the resources:
Public Engagement Network Meeting slides
Example Evaluation Worksheet
Aston-Mansfield Creative Evaluation

The engagement team have produced a number of resources to help with evaluation which can be found on our website. See below our top tips for evaluation.

10 top tips for evaluating your engagement project

  • Don’t leave evaluation to the end of a project or activity, build evaluation in at the start. We believe evaluation is an on-going, iterative process that takes places throughout the life of a project or activity.
  • Evaluation should link to the aims and objectives of your project. Take time to define what these are, and think carefully about what changes you think your project may have.
  • Think about what to measure before how to measure! Assess and measure what is important rather than what is easy to measure.
  • Another questionnaire??? There are lots of evaluation methods, both quantitative and qualitative methods, think about what method is appropriate.
  • Evaluation should not (just be) about showcasing successes. The unexpected, unpredicted, and experiences of failure and confusion are all part of the evaluation process.
  • Evaluation can enable a range of people’s voices to be heard; a diversity of stakeholders and perspectives should be involved in the evaluation process.
  • Evaluation should lead to action – use your evaluations to make decisions, plan activities, develop resources and advise others.
  • Consult and collaborate with colleagues and communities to ensure you’re your evaluation approach constantly evolves.
  • Don’t produce a report that sits on a shelf: share the learning from your evaluation in a number of ways (toolkits, advice, case studies, presentations and reports).
  • Ask for help!

If this PEN meeting has gotten your creative juices flowing then sign-up for our Public Engagement Skills and Practice Training Day on November 7 .
If you’d like to work with community organisations like Aston-Mansfield, sign-up for our Creating Connections East event on November 8 .
And if any ideas are sparked by those events, you can also apply for our Beacon Bursary funding to help get things started: deadline midnight November 18th.

We love to hear your opinions on what would help and so if you have any ideas please drop us a line: publicengagement@ucl.ac.uk. Read the rest of this entry »