It is crucial to empower and support young people to shape health research, and this is why.
Our approach to public engagement
Public engagement plays a vital role in supporting science to solve urgent challenges and in creating trust and acceptance across communities.
We aim to build that trust and acceptance by enabling communities to have a meaningful relationship with the work of health research.
To foster this relationship, we need to focus on:
- Listening and working well with communities to understand how health research might impact their lives and experiences.
- Recognising the nuances of engagement and working with appropriate partners to build relationships and influence different contexts.
- Considering how assets and resources within communities can be leveraged in support of urgent health challenges.
Why is public engagement important for researchers?
From basic science to health challenge research, effective public engagement increases the impact and uptake of science towards positive change. Public engagement encourages trusted relationships with science, supports wider societal understanding of the contributions of science. It also utilises contributions from communities in support of research ambitions.
What we're doing
We’re working to advance the objectives of Wellcome’s new strategy in each area outlined below. These include a broad programme of discovery research and a focus on the urgent health challenges of infectious disease, climate and health, and mental health.
There’s not enough attention given to the roles and contributions communities can bring to address the ambitions of research, and so we are prioritising the potential of this active public contribution.
Our goal is to influence ways the public can play a role at different stages of the research lifecycle:
We’re creating better contextual understanding to help decision-making around research priorities and amplifying the voice of public and communities most affected to key decision-makers
We’re learning about how research works well with communities, through work on human centered clinical trials and by creating collective knowledge (for example, community-generated data to augment research)
We’re engaging communities with the research to generate solutions and guide design of interventions of research and policies, using a range of trusted media and community channels and partners.
Funding and partnerships
We explore how funding and other resources can support collective action towards Wellcome’s goals and ensure long-term sustainability. To do this, we work with a wide range of partners to identify opportunities and ensure Wellcome works in an equitable way with the public.
The Realist Review of the Evidence Base of Community Engagement with Research aimed to bring greater clarity and consistency to the field through review of the evidence around community and public engagement. The project looked at published papers and engagement work within malaria research trials in low resource settings. This highlighted that authentic and effective knowledge generation with communities requires an investment in building relationships within places and trusted, reciprocal links to communities and local partners.
At Wellcome, we are embarking upon two pieces of work to address this need:
- Priority Partnerships and Context Mapping is assessing where public and community engagement priorities are positioned within large-scale funders of global health and multilateral agencies with a health focus, to inform partnership building and alignment. It will also develop a framework and set of tools that Wellcome can use for context mapping in different countries and geographies to increase our contextual understanding of places, so that we can design and develop more effective and appropriate public engagement and participation programmes.
- Centres for Exchange addresses an inefficient model of working in communities where each new research project makes fresh asks of a population and researchers are seen to come and go without any commitment to the community within which the research is focussed. This can lead to misunderstandings, loss of time and trust as well as issues such as clinical trial fatigue. Through the Centres for Exchange study, we are exploring effective and meaningful routes for communities to participate in the research in ways that can both support local needs and the health challenge ambitions that underpin Wellcome’s work. We know that this mutual benefit requires an investment in relationships between research, community, civil society and other partners, as well as a consideration of appropriate and sustainable infrastructure and environments for participatory engagement.
This connects different stakeholders in community to discuss, debate and respond to evidence about anti-microbial resistance, and to generate concrete practical steps to addressing the issue at community and policy levels. We developed an adaptable guide to support implementation of Responsive Dialogues in any country and this has been trialled across Thailand, Malawi and Zambia. We are working with partners to sustain and scale the approach.
We’ve recruited 20 passionate changemakers to address health challenges posed by climate change. Averting catastrophic climate breakdown in a way that allows human health to flourish requires innovative and systemic approaches and public engagement is a critical component. Through this program, changemakers will develop a deeper understanding of the climate and health intersection, while gaining key skills, tools and relationships to achieve engagement and impact through their work.
In partnership with BBC Media Action, we supported a series of films to bring to life the health toll of climate change, which were distributed globally around the time of the COP26 event in 2021. The film series showcased first-person stories from people in different locations and circumstances to show how climate change threatens the health and well-being of communities around the world.
The Ideas Fund supports projects that focus on mental health and helps communities tackle the problems that matter to them by connecting them with researchers and providing support to develop ideas. The scheme has been designed to provide a new, open and inclusive way of funding that starts with community ideas — particularly rural communities, people who experience racism, young people, or those who have been overlooked by engagement.
Our inclusive approach
Those facing the most disproportionate effects of the health challenges are often those who have the least meaningful roles in contributing to change, if not entirely excluded. Our work centres the voices of those most impacted. We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and everyone has unique contributions to bring to a change process. We look for what is already working at the community level then we work towards sustainable, community-led outcomes.
What we're doing
We develop and support the best ways of bringing science and health research closer to the society in which it operates.
To make this happen, we’re investing in and partnering with people, organisations and projects around the world:
- we develop partnerships that support a wide range of people to explore, create and debate science and health research
- we develop the evidence base for public engagement, and support networks and organisations to measure outcomes and share expertise
- we develop leaders in public engagement, from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds
- we lead change to embed public engagement in research
- we encourage a diverse range of organisations to integrate science and research in their work.
Who we support
The people, projects and places we support range from social enterprises and community engagement networks to Nobel Prize winners and national galleries.
- partnerships with social enterprises like Big Society Capital, Bethnal Green Ventures and Zinc on mental health research
- support for networks for community engagement in low and middle-income countries, like MESH
- collaborative projects like Night Club, a sleep installation and workshop designed by The Liminal Space with University of Oxford and Co-op
- support for public libraries around the UK to connect with research in health, culture and society, together with the Carnegie UK Trust and the Wolfson Foundation
- innovative projects in the creative industries, like Hellblade and Dark River.
We also run Wellcome Collection, a free museum and library exploring health and human experience.
We want our work to reach as many people as possible, especially people we haven’t yet talked to. We prioritise projects for audiences who have few opportunities to engage with research.
Read more about the projects we’ve funded.
Public engagement for researchers
This study explores the role, benefits and potential of young people’s involvement in health research, with a focus on mental health, infectious diseases and global heating.