Imperial College London

Best practice in participatory research explored at Engagement Day 2022


A group of people on the lecture theatre at Engagement Day. One woman has the microphone.

Engagement Day 2022

103 members of staff and students took part in Engagement Day 2022 to broaden their understanding of societal engagement.

Participatory research is roughly defined as public participation in research, with public participants contributing at any stage of the research lifecycle (e.g., co-production, peer research, co-creation, citizen science).  Engagement Day 2022 returned to South Kensington in April to explore this important area of public engagement. The conference aimed to inspire staff and PhD students to gain a deeper understanding and consider how involving the public can have a positive impact on their research and on our collective futures. It was an opportunity to network, discuss ideas, and share questions and challenges.

“We were delighted to see so many staff and students join us in person for Engagement Day. It was great to see people come together, explore this area of engagement and find inspiration and ideas for how they can embed this way of working in their own research,” said Charlotte Coales, Engagement Manager within the Public Engagement team. 

Emily Morrison speaking at Engagement Day
Emily Morrison

The day started with the keynote speaker, Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, powered by The Young Foundation. Emily has conducted social research in the Western Balkans, the Middle East, Latin America, South Africa, and Europe and previously held professional and academic positions at University College London and King’s College London.

At Engagement Day, Emily discussed her own experiences in community research across the world, the importance of engaging with the public, and what to consider when involving audiences in your own work.

She then joined Lizzie Cain from the Co-Production Collective and Vita Moltedo from Maternity Voices Matter to discuss the role of power within participatory research. Touching on ethics and ownership, Lizzie and Vita showed how we can ensure the participatory research process is truly beneficial for all. 

3 speakers sat on purple chairs at the front of a lecture hall.
Emily Morrison, Lizzie Cain, and Vita Moltedo

After lunch, attendees were given a choice of three deep-dive sessions including Breathing Together, delivered by Ellen Dowell and Dr Vicky Cave, discussing how to engage with under-fives.

The other options were Exploring the Depths of Peer Research with a group of Imperial professionals in clinical research and patient engagement and a peer researcher, and Co-Designing New Brain Scanning Technology, delivered by Joanne Thomas and Steph Mellor from UCL.

These deep dives gave attendees the opportunity to hear about a particular project in detail, with plenty of time for questions and discussion. By exploring a case study with those experienced in developing and delivering it, attendees were able to learn how to apply these practices to their own future research and engagement.

The final session of the day was a series of Lightning Talks where presenters were set the challenge of describing their engagement projects using just 20 slides which automatically moved on every 20 seconds!

A woman speaking while wearing a light-up bowler hat
Madalina-Ioana Sas talking about Synch.Live

Attendees  heard about a community-based approach investigating indoor air pollution from Diana Varaden, the Synch.Live project from Madalina-Ioana Sas, a national programme to create informal science learning spaces from Shaaron Leverment, and citizen science approaches from Dr Poppy Lakeman Fraser.

Feedback from conference attendees has been very positive, “Literally all sessions were fantastic”.  The day also proved to be an important opportunity to raise awareness of the help and support  that is available for staff and students at Imperial “Engagement at Imperial is much larger than I was aware of and I would like to expand my connections internally to develop Community Engagement at Imperial.”

Great, useful talks and the poet was the most unexpected and beautiful instance of SciCom and improvisation. Attendee

Engagement Day ended with some thought-provoking poetry from spoken word poet Dan Simpson (Instagram and Twitter), who spent the day gathering key moments and quotes to create a range of poems which summarised the key learnings from the day, but which also reminded us of the vital importance of listening to our audiences and considering their experience when working with us.

We would like it if we knew why this is happening. We would prefer it 
if we could be part of the why for why this is happening. 
We would like it if you shared your knowledge with us 
but also listened to ours. We would like to feel equal 
because we are equal. We would like it if you believed that 
deeply. We would like it if you came to us. We’re not that far away. 

A man at the front of the leacture hall holding a microphone while holding a phone.
Dan Simpson, Poet

We want to spend our time usefully. We are so busy 
with the rest of our lives. We would like it if you smiled 
and were pleased to see us. We might be nervous and resistant. 
We like to know you feel like that too, sometimes. We would like it if 
you showed us something cool. We want to be surprised and inspired 
even if we don’t know that we want that yet. We would like it 
if you made evaluation forms less evaluation form-y. We do not know 
why they are useful. We would like it if you made things easy to understand 
but didn’t dumb down. We are no less intelligent than you. We would like it 
if you held us. We would like to trust you. We would like it if we were trusted. 
We would like it if you got to know our lives. We would like to share that with you. 
We would like you to know that sometimes things are messy. 
We would like it if there were tea and biscuits provided. Sandwiches are always good. 
We would like it if we could tell our friends and family that we did something  
a little different today. We like to tell our stories and we like to be heard. 
Not just listened to, but heard. We would like it if you heard us. 
We would like it if you came back. We are still here after you are gone. 

You can watch the talks from Engagement Day here.


Claire Wells

Claire Wells
Office of the Provost

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