June 15, 2009

The Festival of Social Sciences – public involvement

So the launch of the Festival of Sciences is today.  A chance for us to share our work with students, members of the public and each other.  We talk about Universities as being 'ivory towers' but actually each discipline or department is often a tower in its own right.  We are taught to specialise, become experts, and by doing so often lose the time, the interest and the opportunity to engage more broadly within and outside our own discipline.

A different form of ivory tower is the idea that we as academics only ever talk to each other, or occasionally, students.  What about promoting public understanding of our work?  What about trying to make a difference and working with people to improve their understanding or approach to their work?

For the last three years I have been trying to straddle this three-way divide between academia - practitioners - public.  I have been seconded to the NHS National Centre for Involvement that was set up in June 2006 to support and develop the capacity of NHS staff and organisations to engage with patients and the public about the way the develop, organise and deliver health services.  So this was an opportunity to take my understanding of how and why to involve people and theories of engagement in to practice and see if I could help others across the NHS in England do their work in a different and hopefully better way.

So what do I do?  I give lots of talks at conferences, at NHS organisations, to charities, 43 last year not just in England but across the UK as well as Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Finland, Sweden, Spain and the US. Sometimes the talks are about substantive issues or policies - methods for involvement, the implications of EU Directives - but often they are about exciting people about involvement helping them to consider how different health services would be if clinicians and other staff saw patients not as objects to be fixed but co-creators and partners in an endeavour to improve wellbeing.

So for me the Festival of Sciences offers another opportunity to think about how to make academic work, academic understanding make a difference. Somethin that I am also trying to pursue with an ESRC funded Seminar Series on Exploring the Impact of Public Involvement: Understanding the role of theory, practice and culture".  The next  seminar is on measuring the impact of involvement and is here at the University on 2 July (find more information at http://www.nhscentreforinvolvement.nhs.uk/index.dfm?Content=151) and all are welcome.  The idea of the seminars is to think about involvement in environmental issues, in policy and in healthcare and to bring together members of the public interested in invovlement, those with experience in being involved, practitioners who have responsibility to engage with service user and the public as well as academics. This is the third seminar in the series and it has been great to have a diverse audience.  I hope you will come too.

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