‘Inspiring Stories’ with Lucy Green

Faculty Head of Engagement

This is part of the Engaged Medicine¬†‚ÄėInspiring Stories‚Äô blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton‚Äôs Faculty of Medicine.

I did my 8th Southampton Science and Engineering Day this year ‚Äď but really, I‚Äôm a late comer to public engagement. I dived in feet first with little idea as to what I was doing but I felt like everyone should know about the area of medical science that I was working in ‚Äď the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. I built the Giant Kerplunk game in my garage, as a giant visual metaphor for what determines our health, including our time spent in the womb. It landed well, and despite my efforts to replace the Giant Kerplunk (it is back-breaking work!), I have had to resign myself to keeping it for now. I’ve developed public engagement ‚Äėside hustles‚Äô along the way, by adding activities alongside it, and worked with Drs Kath Woods-Townsend and Mark Chapman (FELS) on our Cultivate! project which explores the relationship between growing edible plants, lifelong health and climate change.

The Giant Kerplunk at the 2017 Science and Engineering Day in Southampton. This year the event attracted 5000+ visitors and was a day packed of intense conversation with young and old festival goers.

The fact is that Kerplunk remains a good hook, a way to attract younger people (and the adults they have in tow) into a conversation. So, the sticks still need reloading (Kirsten Poore and I need helpers with patience!) and the balls falling! I realised in the first year of doing it that I was witnessing people reacting to some exciting and disrupting science ideas… the triple-A of: Amazement of new information; Assimilation into their current lives and experiences; and Action…. What should they do with this information?

At this year‚Äôs Science and Engineering day our Faculty contribution went up by 8 activities ‚Äď that‚Äôs a 133% increase! I don‚Äôt think it is an accident for a number of reasons.

First, there is a rich variety of patient and public engagement and involvement going on in the University’s Faculty of Medicine, including at the interface with UHS teams. The many wise heads and expert practitioners who do it, continue to share, spread the word and challenge each other to keep the patient and public engagement and involvement work evolving in Faculty. I am grateful to all the Engaged Medicine Steering Group for all they do to boost this work.

Secondly, knowledge exchange and enterprise holds a firm position in the University’s Triple Helix Strategy and our Faculty boards, working groups and Co-Associate Deans of Knowledge Exchange and Enterprise give us a better scaffold than ever for this kind of work to thrive.

Finally, a key to Faculty engagement success has been developing staff and research student skills through the ‚ÄėGetting Started in Public Engagement training‚Äô we‚Äôve been running for the past 3 years with the Centre for Higher Education Practice‚Äôs Alex Reynolds and David Reed, and the Public Engagement with Research Unit‚Äôs Ben Littlefield and Jo James. As well, we‚Äôve got exciting plans for a new ‚ÄėEngaging the public with your research‚Äô postgraduate taught module for 2024/5. Of course, patient and public engagement and involvement cuts through our Bachelor of Medicine student experience. I was joined by 7 medical students from BM4, 5 and 6 programmes on my Science and Engineering Day stand this year ‚Äď they were amazing and brought a depth of knowledge, empathy and energy to the stand as they engaged with public of all ages.

Medical students, Lucy Green and Kirsten Poore at the 2024 Southampton Science and Engineering Day.

Public engagement is an important part of building trusted connections between people, communities and the Faculty and its research work, for the people who should benefit from it. The relationships are precious and can take hours of building by both public members and the researchers. I watch respectfully the wonderful projects which are leading in this way to develop settings, styles and substance to make these research relationships fly. You can read more about these projects and public engagement across the Faculty in the ‚ÄėInspiring Stories’ blog¬†here. You can also listen to the¬†Collaboratively Speaking with UoS podcast¬†here.¬†It is heartening to see this aspect of research and impact fully acknowledged in the ‚ÄėPeople Culture and Environment‚Äô and ‚ÄėEngagement‚Äô portions of the REF2029 return.

Our novel Public Contributor Recognition Scheme (research and education, in conjunction with UHS SCREI) has awarded certificates and staff/student testimonials to ~70 public to date for the part they‚Äôve played in research and education. This June will be the 3rd year that nominees have come to the Faculty Research conference and judge the lay infographic presentations. This scheme is one way to encourage others to work with us and fits with NIHR recognition strategies. If you would like to make a nomination click here. I am excited to see this expand nationally to other partner institutions.

On a personal note, I get a lot back from public engagement at Festivals etc. Over the years, it has made me question my language, challenged aspects of the work and its uses. It has fuelled me. But I don‚Äôt think I‚Äôve been alone in struggling to work out how to directly involve the public in the non-clinical science. Through some University funding, I’ve begun some really interesting coproduction work: an arts-based Trust in end of life care project with a Southampton African and Afro-Caribbean community; and exploring methods of coproduction with Southampton Voluntary Services‚Äôs Rebecca Kinge, Monty‚Äôs Community Hub (Teenage Girls in Green Spaces) and Board in The City (Trauma). It is new to me and helping me to think about how our Faculty can empower the public voice at discovery and non-clinical stages of research… so that we aren‚Äôt just weaving in a synthesis of public opinions we gathered at festivals or in clinic, but embracing public voice directly in our non-clinical research conduct.

Across the whole research landscape, we have some big challenges in building trusted connections to diverse communities, and in evaluating and recording what we do but Knowledge Exchange is thriving at the University, you can read more here. Public engagement and involvement has been a wonderful development in my own career with many happy partnerships formed, new schemes and witnessing considerable energy and enthusiasm from many who do it really well. So, I feel excited about the developments and innovations to ensure that people and communities are at the heart of our pathway to research impact.

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Lucy Green

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