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

Briony Fleming and Lizzy Baddeley14 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.

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

Lizzy Baddeley12 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…

Muted – The Power Of Symbolism Through Textile

Lizzy Baddeley17 July 2018

This blog is written by Sharon Brooks, Event Manager at UCL Culture. Sharon led on the Textile 100 Event at the Olympic Park Stratford in 2018.

The handkerchief was a powerful symbol of camaraderie and identity in the past. Women sought social change through the language of textiles. Inmates’ signatures and the struggle were inscribed, embroidery was a form of disobedience and femininity that marked a pivotal time in history, where women were seen and not heard.

100 years ago crafts became a significant outlet for the incarcerated suffrage community. Political statements were made through the use of textiles by forming intricate embroidery on handkerchiefs, a popular outlet behind the walls of London’s Holloway prison during the hunger strikes

Textile 100 was established by the East Bank partners UCL, London College of Fashion and the V&A in March 2018 as a new collaborative initiative combining the use of art, culture, research and community. It was born out of celebrating the centenary of women and winning the right to vote.

handkerchief embroidered by suffragette prisoners

The original handkerchief, embroidered by suffragette prisoners, used as inspiration for the event

The workshop took place in Timber Lodge on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, just across the Lea River from Victoria Park which was a regular space for mass rallies in 1845 and an established hub of activism. The local community were encouraged to explore their creativity and produce designs on handkerchiefs that captured the essence of the 19th century. For many the textile tasks took them back to their childhood days of arts, crafts and sharing ideas in a fun and engaging environment with their peers. They were inspired by historical and contemporary issues that were presented and highlighted throughout the day through embroidery, talks and poetry.

The fight for justice could take another 100 years and there is still monumental strides to be made in attitudes towards women’s rights and equality. The current pay gap barrier and the #MeToo campaign have become a worldwide cultural phenomenon led by powerful women. Today’s protests are peaceful, loud without the violent chaos.

Women have now found their voice and cemented their rightful place in society to be fearless and free to express their opinions. They are recognised as some of the greatest beacons in society – winning in all areas of life.

In the 1880s this was just a vision embroidered on a handkerchief to emphasise the need to incorporate women in many aspects of public life. As lawyers, scientists and politicians – the achievements and evolution of the women must be celebrated. As Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics sang “Sisters are doing it for themselves / Now this is a song to celebrate / the conscious liberation of the female state!“

Rewind back 100 years ago to 1918 women were enslaved by society and lived a disenfranchised life, deprived of any physical political acknowledgement in a patriarchal society. Women were devalued; they had no choice and no voice. Many women were imprisoned for their militant actions. They just wanted to be heard in a male dominated society.

Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the original Suffragettes is the epitome of an extraordinary, phenomenal and strong women. She became the voice of the people by campaigning for adequate housing, equal pay and voting rights. In 1903 she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union which was known as a radical party and often used extreme methods in order to get their message heard. Sometimes violent, they were the first women to be labelled as Suffragettes. Pankhurst’s political activism paved the way for today’s modern women.


hands and embroidery


During the twentieth century textiles became an accepted form of expression through political struggles. A sacred form of communication filled the prisons and stories were told through textiles, protests were created by intricate painful embroidery, personal experience of resistance and resentment translated through muted voices, an unspoken political rule – textiles formed a barrier against the system.

Textile 100 has proven to be a solid platform to connect London with the local community while fusing a rich tradition of textile heritage and combing that with the centenary celebrations. The transaction of ideas along with the exchange of knowledge of research and creativity highlights the importance of collaborative projects whilst working towards achieving something even bigger through the power of togetherness and public engagement.

Textile 100 was a collaboration between UCL, V&A and London College of Fashion. Sharon has previously run Bright Club for UCL, and you can read about that event in her previous blog post.

The Textile 100 event is being repeated on Sunday 22nd July 2018 at Open Doors: Vote 100

Advocating Public Engagement: Can UCL be an instigator of change in the sector?

Lizzy Baddeley8 May 2018

This is the second in our series of responses to the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s 10th birthday. This blog from Iwona Bisaga, a PhD student in the Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience, suggests that UCL needs to lead by example and advocate more widely across the Higher Education sector about the importance of public engagement.

Coming from a social science background, I like to think I have a higher appreciation for working with and for ‘the people’ than friends and colleagues from other disciplines might have. This is obviously a generalisation but, whether true or not, I have been driven in my choices and decisions according to what my work means for others (does it change anything? Does it make anything better for even just one person?) and how I can work towards achieving the goals of my work in collaboration with those who are ultimately impacted by it.

My PhD research is done in collaboration with an industry partner and that in itself means a lot because there is someone who is interested in what I find out pretty much by default. If it wasn’t for this kind of collaboration, I probably wouldn’t have decided to do a PhD.

man crouching, face obscured by camera

Iwona’s public engagement project involved asking the users of solar home system, who was researching, to take photographs

But what about everyone else, including those whose lives I have been researching (i.e. users of Solar Home Systems in Rwanda)? What do they get out of it? What voice do they have?

Well, for one, it is expected that my findings will help inform the work aimed at improving the products and services which those users receive. But, even though they are at the very centre of our collective work, their voice is passive: they respond to surveys, they participate in focus groups, they answer calls. But do they ever get to ask questions? Learn about what the product-service, provider-customer relationship is about? What the limitations and successes of the off-grid solar sector are?

I have received support both from the UCL Public Engagement Unit (PEU) and the UCL Global Engagement Office (GEO), with particularly the former assisting me to tackle that very challenge. To appreciate that those participating in the research should not only be informants but also recipients of it is, in my opinion, a huge achievement already, and UCL is far ahead of just that. There is an active effort to bring public engagement to the forefront of all of research activities across the university. There are various pockets of support, going beyond PEU and GEO. Citizen science has its own chapter now, one of very few (or perhaps the only one) in the UK! There is the encouragement to think along the lines of action research and its importance, the need for more involvement with research participants and various stakeholders who might be impacted or interested in what we’re trying to learn, to discover, to create. I’m impressed by how much public engagement is talked about across UCL, which translates into a rather widespread, shared appreciation of its significance in achieving true, meaningful research excellence.

woman and man on a sofa looking at a camera

Two participants in Iwona’s researching looking at the photographs they had taken

However, do others have the same level of appreciation? Does the wider academic community, beyond our Bloomsbury bubble, have the same understanding of what it means to do public engagement as part of academic research?

Sometimes I feel it is looked at as a novelty, an idiosyncrasy. Perhaps aspirational, but not really recognised as something that belongs to academic rigour, academic standards.

Where I would like UCL to go next is to become the external advocates of public engagement as vigorously as they have been its advocates internally. Ultimately, how is it going to matter what we do here if nobody else follows and respects our efforts? Just like research studies should not just produce something for the sake of consuming it but rather actively participating in it, so should other folk in the academic circles and beyond (here I talk about policymakers, practitioners, private sector actors etc.) should not just consume and observe from outside the yes- interesting, yes- useful, and yes- often different research efforts, but join in and collaborate, replicate, participate in them.

Being such a strong proponent of public engagement, UCL is in the best position to advocate it and make it into a standard of excellence along with those already set. And by UCL here I mean all those who are doing public engagement on a daily basis, who have adopted the mantra and who are credible examples of it. There are partners out there who I’m sure are going to willingly help, who are also part of the movement. If it isn’t happening yet, then maybe it can start happening soon?

For her PhD, Iwona Bisaga is looking at the behaviour of users of the Solar Home System BBOXX in rural Rwanda. She was funded through the UCL Public Engagement Unit Beacon Bursary scheme for a participatory photography project. You can read more about her research and engagement on Iwona’s website.

Are these open gates or defences?

Lizzy Baddeley23 April 2018

In the first in a series of responses to the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s 10th birthday this blog from Professor Ian Needleman (UCL Eastman Dental Institute) asks what more we can do with our physical spaces at UCL.

Laura Cream in her provocative blog asks Are we being ambitious enough for public engagement at UCL?. The ten year anniversary of the Public Engagement Unit (PEU) is indeed a cause for celebration of progress at UCL. From my point of view, as I have neglected to do this, it is time for me to say huge thanks to the PEU staff for their support, guidance and cajoling which has transformed how I see my role.

After ten years, what I feel most is a greater hunger and impatience for where we should be. The physical and metaphorical gates on Gower Street still represent a barrier, which is of course what they were intended to provide structurally. The museums have wonderful, award-winning events and collections that attract the public and our local communities. There are many other events that bring us together at specific times. But where are the UCL spaces that the public chose to wander into daily to pause for a few minutes and hopefully in some way share with us our rich activities and we might to learn something from their experiences? What a rich opportunity this would provide and who knows what conversations it might start?

The 10 years of public engagement at UCL series will continue through 2018. If you would like to contribute, get in touch!

Bright Club: Bringing academic comedy to east London

Lizzy Baddeley21 March 2018

Bright Club is the thinking person’s comedy night, where UCL researchers become stand up comedians. Run by the UCL Public Engagement Unit. In February 2018, we took Bright Club to a new venue in East London, Stratford Circus, for the first time as part of our UCL East engagement strategy. This post was written by Sharon Brooks, who ran the events.

Bright Club – our innovative public engagement model – was taken to Stratford Circus in East London for the first time to entertain a new local audience, outside the confines of the traditional UCL student pubs.

The academics were given a task to discuss their research piece in an entertaining, conversational manner with an element of humour – comedy for nerds.

Year of the Mind was our first themed show in February, and we then culminated our Bright Club series with a celebration of the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s 10 year anniversary. Bright Club was one of the earliest initiative of the PEU, so it felt only right to celebrate with a special show featuring some of the performers from the past. The aim is to encourage learning and enhance performers’ skills – giving the participating staff and students a positive experience that encourages them to then work with public engagement support staff.

The researchers at the 10th anniversary show, who had been involved in Bright Club before, highlighted to the audience what can happen a few years after a Bright Club experience. It pushes researchers out of their comfort zone, and forces them to get complex concepts across quickly and in an entertaining manner, helping them develop skills in communication and engagement.

Group of people around tables reading and smiling

The glamorous life of learning to be a comedian

With the help of our trainers; Iszi Lawrence a stand-up comedian and Steve Cross, the founder of Bright Club; a neurogastroenterology academic was able to make light of abdominal MRI investigation and how different foods and stress affect gastrointestinal function.  A medical doctor, whose research piece focuses on computational neuroscience and applying AI to mental health had the audience roaring with laughter – the academics kept the audience engaged all night with their witty, tongue in cheek performances.

Bright Club East had a phenomenal response – both shows sold out two weeks before the event. We had media interest; a write up in the Guardian and a segment on London live to name a few. The Bright Club brand continues to spark intrigue from inquisitive minds.

group of 11 people, women and men, some stood, some sat, smiling and looking at the camera

The performers from the 22nd February event

Women with a microphone on stage shrugging

Josie Mills performing.
Photos taken by Kirsten Holst

Women on stage with banner behind her saying 'UCL Culture'

Yolanda Ohene performing.
Photos taken by Kirsten Holst.


Celebrating the best in Public Engagement at UCL

Lizzy Baddeley26 February 2018

There’s only one week left to nominate an individual/a team/a community partner for a UCL Provost’s Award for Public Engagement. The awards aim to celebrate the very best mutually beneficial engagement with external communities that has taken place at UCL over the last year.

At this auspicious time, we wanted to take a look back over some of our award winners of the past. We’ve had so many, this is really just a snapshot.

Hannah receiving her award from the then Provost Sir Malcolm Grant

Some of our previous winners have gone on to be well known in engagement and communication nationally, like Hannah Fry who won ‘Academic/Research grade 6/7’ in 2013. You can now see her fronting a variety of BBC programmes on maths and science, but in 2013 her work was on a slightly more local scale. Hannah had worked on a variety of engagement initiatives, but the stand out project was a film she made about the London riots.

Hannah had been analysing the mathematical patterns in the London 2011 riots and seen a connection between cuts to youth services and rioting. In making the film she heard from charities, youth workers, and young people to help inform the content. You can read more about the process here.

In the very first year of the awards, one of the winners was Caroline Bressey: Director of the Equiano Centre. She was recognised for her efforts to ensure community voices were heard in her research on the African diaspora in the UK and in resulting policy.  Caroline has done a great deal of work with ‘community scholars’ – a term she has coined to acknowledge work by researchers outside of academia with whom she collaborates on research and funding applications.  She has also co-curated exhibitions on slavery and abolition at the National Portrait Gallery and made important contributions to several other exhibitions, campaigns, and initiatives. Caroline and others in the Equiano Centre have continued to be shining examples of engaged researchers.

Caroline Bressey at the ceremony

In 2015, a new category was included in the awards to allow us to celebrate the work of partner organisations involved in public engagement. Almost all our previous winners have had strong connection to external groups, but never before had we awarded the initiative and commitment of those partners in creating and maintaining engagement with UCL.

The winner in 2015 was Kate Martin from Common Room, a ground breaking service user and young peoples’ engagement organisation which ensures the voice of disempowered groups informs research and supports appropriate dissemination. The work for which she was nominated was a collaboration between Kate and the Evidence Based Practice Unit at UCL and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Familes. Kate and Common Room were able to bring  in the voices of children and young people with experience of mental health issues and of their family members, to share their views and experiences of mental health issues and of service use, normally a difficult thing for researchers to do.

Kate Martin with current Provost Michael Arthur and Rob Trimble from the Bromley-by-Bow Centre

There are many more winners, and indeed nominees, who could be highlighted, and there is a list of all previous winners on our website. Because so many good people, teams and partners are nominated, last year we decided to highlight a few on our site. You can find them here:

If you know someone, a group, or a community partner who deserves to be recognised for their work bringing gaps between UCL and external groups or individuals? If so, get your nominations in quickly!



How can we best engage with frail older people? Reflections from a public engagement project

Lizzy Baddeley5 February 2018

This is a guest post by Rachael Frost and Pushpa Nair from the UCL Centre for Ageing Population Studies sharing learning from their project Engaging with mental health in very late life. This project was funded by a UCL Beacon Bursary.

Getting frail older people involved in research can be challenging. Mobility issues, sensory impairments, and potentially some cognitive impairments, can make it difficult to engage in PPI (Patient and Public Involvement) work, such as attending meetings or providing feedback on grant applications and results summaries. However, there are many important ways we can connect with older people who are frailer, to ensure people have a voice in research that is trying to improve their lives.

Below, we outline some tips that we learnt from our recent public engagement project: Engaging with mental health in very late life (see here for the case study).

1) Go to them.

older people looking at photo board

Rachael and Pushpa’s project took place at the day centre’s where the older people were already present

Finding interested people and suitable places is always difficult, but can be overcome by partnering with day centres. Their rooms are already tailored to people with mobility difficulties, and there’s plenty of tea and coffee for service users! In addition to providing a space for discussion groups, they offered invaluable support in identifying who might be interested in taking part and physically assisting people over to the discussion room, as well as assisting with the more creative aspects of the project. Centres had a wide range of service users that we would otherwise have found difficult to access and involve in the research process – people who were illiterate, people who could speak but not read or write English and people from a range of minority ethnic groups – who were happy to talk to us in an informal way in the setting of the day centre.

2) Have a clear, simple focus.

Initially, we planned a complex discussion session involving three topics: what people knew about mental health and local services, establishing future research priorities and how we could improve dissemination of research findings. About halfway through the first session, we realised we were trying to fit way too many things in! Each person took a while to express their thoughts, but everyone needed to be given an opportunity to speak. Balancing this with ensuring discussions weren’t too long or repetitive was a challenge. Focusing on a single, clear theme worked much better.

photos with caption 'smile'

The project focused on wellbeing

Once we restructured the discussion upon simply what could support people’s wellbeing at this point in their life, they became a lot more focussed and we could discuss the issues in more depth. Importantly, we still learnt about people’s knowledge of mental health and local services and how people preferred us to communicate, even without directly asking about these.

3) Make it personal.

Information, ideas and activities worked better and gained more interest when they were personally relevant (e.g. talking about themselves or a friend) rather than general or abstract (“What should we research?”). However, we discovered it was wise to avoid asking people in their 80s with lots of life experience and stories to ‘tell me a bit about yourself’!

4) Keep it small.

The ideal discussion group size was three to five people. When we had more than this, some people left because they weren’t able to have their say, whilst others tried to start a second group conversation. Small groups didn’t work well for those with hearing or cognitive impairments –one-to-one chats may be more helpful for these groups of people.

5) Make it creative.

Though written information is the backbone of research, our colourful handouts with basic facts and figures about depression in later life just didn’t interest frail older people. Some of our participants hadn’t learned to read or write as they were evacuated during the war, or hadn’t had the chance to learn to read or write in English since moving to the UK. Verbal discussions offered a great opportunity to explore things in depth, but weren’t very novel for older people. Asking people to decorate postcards with drawings and stickers about how they felt and what wellbeing meant to them was partially successful, although didn’t provide much opportunity for people to elaborate on the topic.

disposable cameras

Easy to use cameras were given out to document wellbeing

The better idea was a photo project, Smile, in which we gave five to six service users in each centre a disposable camera and asked to them to photograph things that were important to them and improved their wellbeing. Although this also required a lot of support from the day centres, people enjoyed the process and seeing the photos when they were back from development. It gave a lot more insight into people’s lives and the support they had around them.

6) Public engagement with older people is a worthwhile and fun process!

Please get in touch if you have thoughts, hints or tips – we’d love to hear from you!





Bangles and Bindhi’s: Engaging communities about child marriage in southern Nepal

Lizzy Baddeley26 January 2018

This is a guest post written by Delan Devakumar, Dinesh Deokota, Sunita Thapa, Sophiya Dulal and Joanna Morrison about their Wellcome Trust funded engagement project in Nepal. Both Delan and Joanna are health researchers at UCL focusing on Nepal.

Child marriage is very common in many parts of the world. Despite being illegal in Nepal, it has one of the highest rates of child marriage, with two fifths of young adult women reporting to have been married before the age of 18. It is particularly common in rural areas and amongst certain ethnic groups, particularly the Dalit (low-caste) communities in the southern plains.

Group discussion with adolescent girls

Being married young is a major determinant of physical and mental ill health. Girls who marry young are more likely to have children at a younger age and it is associated with an increased risk of mortality and illness in both the mother and baby. In addition, there are often educational, economic and social consequences of child marriage and many girls must move to a new area to live with their husbands’ family, potentially resulting in isolation and school drop-out.

Child marriage is understood to be a problem in Nepal and the government has recently set a goal to end child marriage by 2020 but attempts to reduce the rates of child marriage have largely been unsuccessful. Child marriage is a custom that has been ingrained over generations, with strong social and financial incentives. Traditionally, marriage is arranged by the family (61% of marriages in Nepal) with the bride and groom having little say in the decision process.

Interviews with adolescent girls after film screening

Over the course of a year and a half, we worked with a local film maker to engage with the public on topic of child marriage. Rather than just focus on education, we worked with couples (both men and women) who were married young to think deeply about how child marriage has affected their lives. We then created a film based on these discussions, telling their stories.

This short video explains the process of creating and sharing the film:

The next stage of the project involved going out to communities in Kapilvastu district, in rural plains Nepal, where child marriage is common. We screened the film to both small and large audiences. A trained facilitator then led a discussion on the topics that were covered and to think about how they may address the issue locally. We held 19 small group screening and discussions in communities, with boys, girls, parents and community leaders, and three large group screenings.

Overall approximately 1800 people attended the screenings. We showed the film in Kathmandu to external development partners and international and national nongovernmental organisations working on child marriage. We will continue to engage organisations and working groups and committees within the education and health sectors to encourage utilisation of the film in rural areas.

The purpose of telling stories, like the ones in the film, is that it establishes trust and connection between the speaker and listener. It increases receptivity, captures attention, engages emotions, and allows the receiver to participate in the story. It communicates values, helps people make sense of their world, and provides a dependable way for people to remember, retrieve, and retell a meaningful message.

The film and discussions have helped to create discussion about the causes and consequences of child marriage, and the barriers to change – both within communities and between researchers and community workers. Community members have mapped key stakeholders to engage in preventing child marriage, and sought to conduct more screenings in different community groups to increase awareness and stimulate debate. Through this engagement process we have catalysed discussion and built a conscious objective to work towards the reduction of child marriage in Nepal.

Watch the full film: Stolen Dreams Broken Lives – Child Marriage in Nepal


Are we being ambitious enough for public engagement at UCL?

Lizzy Baddeley9 January 2018

This blog was originally published on the UCL Culture blog.

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of UCL’s Public Engagement Unit – not quite a silver or diamond jubilee –  but still a date to celebrate together, to pause and reflect on what we have collectively achieved in the last decade and to start a conversation about where we want to get to by 2028.

Ten years is popularly known as the ‘tin’ anniversary –  a rich seam to mine for metaphors. My mind is drawn immediately to thoughts of the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man and his yearning for the heart that the tinsmith forgot to give him. We see public engagement as the life blood of the university, the multiple relationships between researchers and communities outside enabling a constant circulation of conversation, questions and ideas which enrich both UCL’s research and teaching and the lives of those around us.

The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz

The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz

A common refrain amongst UK public engagement professionals is that their work is still seen as peripheral within their institutions. I am in the enviable position of being able to say to my peers at other universities that the last ten years has placed public engagement firmly at the heart of UCL; we have one of the largest centrally-funded public engagement teams in the UK, a thriving Public Engagement Network, well-established funding and training opportunities and an ambitious UCL Public Engagement Strategy being delivered in partnership with our colleagues in UCL Culture, UCL academics, students, Professional Services colleagues and our external partners. What more could I wish for?

Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that there are still a few things on my wish list for 2028.

By 2028, I would like to see UCL’s reputation for quality public engagement strengthened even further. Students and staff will be attracted to UCL, not just for its academic excellence, but also for the strength of its commitment to real world impact and engagement. The future I would like to see is one in which dissertation, PhD topics and research questions within a broad range of disciplines are increasingly identified in dialogue with, and their outputs exploited by, communities outside UCL. For this to be a reality, we will need to see some serious investment in UCL’s cross-institutional public engagement infrastructure to match the serious ambition of UCL 2034, the London Strategy and our vision for community and public engagement within UCL East.

We already have outstanding researchers who have blazed a trail in forging their own relationships and developing standalone projects – but think how much more we could achieve, and how much faster, if we had institutional platforms in place to connect staff and students with Camden and Olympic Borough communities.

Work already underway should help. Programmes such as the pilot Evaluation Exchange have the potential to transform the way we connect UCL researchers and voluntary sector organisations across London, but it requires long term commitment and sustained funding. The benefits far outweigh the costs; Doctoral Training leads across UCL could exploit the Evaluation Exchange as the first port of call for their Knowledge Exchange commitments, UCL researchers would have the opportunity to develop and apply their skills in real-world situations while working in multidisciplinary teams, and London’s voluntary sector capacity and resilience would grow. The icing on the cake will be UCL’s ability, alongside its existing excellence in volunteering, to document and highlight the breadth and depth of its commitment to making London a better place to live and work in for all.

I’d also love to see more academic conferences taking the lead from researchers such as Dr Deborah Padfield (Slade School of Fine Art) and Prof Joanna Zakrzewska (Eastman Dental Hospital) who were the driving forces behind ‘Encountering Pain: hearing, seeing, speaking,’ a free two-day live networking event and international conference held at UCL in July 2016. It diverted radically from the traditional academic conference format in order to encourage exchange between different groups affected by pain and make academic enquiry more accessible to all. Incorporating performance was just one of the ways they achieved this, and mirrors UCL Culture’s approach of using the arts to promote dialogue and mutual understanding in a research engagement context.

Bridging the gap between theory and practice in the public engagement context is also of increasing interest to me and my team and is at the heart of our RCUK-funded work on the Ingrained project. Over 2018, we will be exploring the local relevance of the global issues at the heart of Grand Challenges with four London community organisations, researchers involved in the Grand Challenge of Transformative Technology and academics from UCL Science and Technology Studies. The aim is to build some long-lasting relationships and to consider how to embed public engagement at a more fundamental level within UCL’s overarching Research Strategy.

dancer at conference

Image from ‘Encountering Pain: hearing, seeing, speaking,’ a free two-day live networking event and international conference at UCL in July 2016.

These are just some of my wishes for the decade to come.

What I really want to know is what you wish for and how you would like to work with us to achieve it? Throughout 2018, UCL Culture will be celebrating UCL’s public engagement past and present and hosting an ongoing conversation about its future. It’s going to be a busy year.

In February UCL Culture will be taking Bright Club to East London with Stratford Circus performances highlighting UCL’s All Stars and some new faces. March sees us marking the achievements of all involved in the Evaluation Exchange and an invitation to join us in a conversation about how to continue the work. Spring heralds two Creating Connections events organised with our colleagues in the UCLU Volunteering Services Unit – March in East London and another in April in partnership with the Francis Crick Institute and the Living Centre. June brings the Provost’s Public Engagement Awards (nominations are open now) and a celebration of a decade of the remarkable achievements of UCL staff, students and their community partners.

So please get involved in this year’s conversation, become part of our network, tweet us, and email us with your questions, ideas and thoughts and help us be even more ambitious about the decade to come.

Laura Cream

Head of Public Engagement, UCL