Public Engagement

With evidence of impact a key requirement of many funders, and with global reach a major priority of the University, it is unsurprising that researchers are devising creative ways to ensure that their work reaches the widest possible audience. This category recognises initiatives that have used technology to engage audiences beyond the University in a two-way process of enhancing knowledge and understanding.

Winners: Andrew Pollard, Sarah Loving & Yama Farooq for The Vaccine Knowledge Project

Although not many UK parents refuse vaccinations outright, many more are ‘vaccine hesitant’, selectively refusing or delaying vaccines or seeking reassurances about their safety before they proceed. It is increasingly easy to find misleading and scaremongering information about vaccines online, while there are fewer websites that promote good-quality balanced information. To help to fill this gap, Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG) in the Department of Paediatrics to set up The Vaccine Knowledge Project (VKP) website. The website provides comprehensive information about vaccines, infectious diseases, vaccine safety issues, and the origin and safety of ingredients in licensed vaccine products. It thereby makes publicly available the evidence, knowledge and data that is available to the research community, enabling adults, parents and young people to make informed choices. The content is overseen by academic staff from the OVG; it is also a responsive resource, updating content and answering questions from the visitors to the website.

A screengrab from a video of the The Vaccine Knowledge Project showing a schoolchild who has been scared of needles

Still from a video in The Vaccine Knowledge Project

The first version of the website did well in reaching a wide audience, but was not easy to use on devices other than PCs. Recognising the increasing numbers of people accessing web-based information on their phones, the OVG re-launched the website in July 2016 on a new platform that works well on all devices.

The judges commended the team for demonstrating all the aspects essential to a successful project that seeks to engage the public with research. They had thought carefully about whom they wanted to engage and why; had utilised the appropriate format to reach their audience and achieve their objectives; and had demonstrated clear evidence of impact, with data showing a significant reach. Furthermore, they are committed to the continual improvement of the website.

Runners-up: Scott Billings, Ellena Smith, Kate Nation, Jacqueline Pumphrey, Zoltan Molnar & Holly Bridge for Brain Diaries

The Brain Diaries exhibition in the Museum of Natural History was produced by a collaboration between the Museum, the Department of Experimental Psychology, the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics. It takes visitors through a journey from conception to cradle to grave, illustrating the extraordinary changes that take place in the brain over the course of a human life. The team used digital technologies to engage visitors with the research that takes place on the inner workings of the human brain, which are largely invisible, microscopic or conceptual.

Students study a touch screen during Super Science Saturday at Oxford University Museum of Natural History by Ian Wallman-98

Students study a touch screen during Super Science Saturday at the Museum of Natural History. Photo by Ian Wallman-98

In addition to the in-gallery digital content, the team has created a fully mobile-responsive website, Brain Diaries, which gives those who cannot visit the Museum virtual access to most of the artefacts, thereby extending the reach of the exhibition to a global audience.

The judges particularly commended the team’s thought-through approach to using digital technologies to engage the public with the research being profiled, and to how they might enable a much broader reach through the new format website. It is hoped that the site will provide a model for the future for other, similar, initiatives in the University.

Honourable Mention: Chris Paton, Mike English, Hilary Edgcombe, Niall Winters, Anne Geniets & Jakob Rossner for LIFE: Life-Saving Instruction for Emergencies

Screenshot from the end of the LIFE serious game showing a Dr commending the nurse on saving a baby's life through his or her intervention

Still from LIFE

Each year, 470,000 babies in Africa die on the day they are born. This figure increases to 1 million within the first 28 days of infancy. To address this avoidable tragedy, the LIFE project uses low-cost smartphones to give healthcare workers in Kenya the knowledge they need in order to provide life-saving treatment.

The LIFE team has created a mobile game in which learners work through a specific scenario in a 3-D virtual hospital. To raise funds to develop the software, the team worked with Oxford University Innovation on the University’s crowdfunding platform, OxReach (an OxTALENT winner in 2016). More than £63,000 was received from 171 donors, in the process engaging even more people with the project and its mission.

The judges praised this dramatic use of virtual reality (VR) to build a valuable learning resource for its intended audience (mainly in Africa, although it is also relevant in the UK). The innovation with VR, and the effective use of a digital crowdfunding platform to enable its development, have earned the LIFE: Life-Saving Instruction for Emergencies project an honourable mention.

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