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Increasing impact through engagement & involvement

Graphic of people talking

Engagement and involvement are vital parts of research, and are increasingly encouraged by research organisations, funders and other stakeholders. However, there can be confusion around what engagement and involvement mean and where they overlap. Here we take a closer look at both.

Involving patients and the public can ensure research is asking the best questions and is run in the best way for those it impacts most. Engaging the public with your research can showcase your work, get the public’s views, and create interest. Both engagement and involvement can help you see your own work in new ways, which can be incredibly rewarding.

What is engagement? 

Engagement is having an interaction or running activities with the public. It can be talking with the public about your research, inspiring them about science in general, or for entertainment. 

Examples of engagement include: 

  • A talk or stall at a science festival 
  • Social media question and answer session 
  • Going into the community with hands-on activities 
  • Running a science club at a school 

When planning an engagement activity, think carefully about what you want to get out of it, who you want to engage with and what style suits you best.

Remember engagement should be a two-way interaction – ask open questions and listen to what your audience says. Think carefully about how to communicate with your audience, what language to use, and prepare some stories and metaphors that can convey the key information.

If you are tackling a tricky topic such as vaccines, be honest and don’t avoid subjects like possible side effects. People can react negatively if they feel you are hiding information. And the most important thing: enjoy yourself! People connect better when they can see someone’s passion and excitement. 

What is involvement? 

Involvement is carrying out research with or by members of the public rather than to, about or for them. In this context, ‘public’ can refer to patients, carers, people using health and social care services, and members of the public. 

Involvement can look like: 

  • Having panels which advise and guide research projects 
  • Including patients, carers or the public as co-applicants on grants 
  • Getting feedback on resources 
  • Co-creation of training and events 

When incorporating involvement into your research, think carefully about how to work with people in a meaningful way. Ensure contributors feel valued for their time and efforts and treat them like the collaborators and colleagues they are. 

Remember involvement initiatives should be accessible. Use plain language in communications whenever possible. 

Try to build involvement into your projects from the beginning, for example, by including patients and the public as co-applicants or running focus groups on your project’s design. Don't forget that involvement can be part of basic research too!

Lots of researchers find involvement beneficial. It can give you a direct line to the people your research affects most and improve research in a myriad of ways from recruitment and retention to speedier ethics approval and more targeted dissemination of results. 

How do engagement and involvement overlap? 

While engagement and involvement are different, there can be overlap. For example, you might attend a local community event to both talk about your work and to get feedback on your research. You could run an activity at a festival where you are also seeking input on how data is stored or shared in health research. These activities could be considered both engagement and involvement; the most important thing is to think carefully about why you are doing your chosen activity and what the public will get out of it. 


Chris-Snowden-Smith, BSI Engagement & Careers Officer and Hana Ayoob, BSI Patient and Public Involvement Manager 

Find out how the BSI team could help you with engagement and involvement activities.