Co-creation and Public Dialogues in research and innovation – A workshop for the ORION project

Co-creation and Public Dialogues in research and innovation – A workshop for the ORION project

At the beginning of February I returned to the Institute’s Public Engagement Team after my maternity leave. After several months away learning how to become a mum, I was very curious to know how the ORION project was progressing. Particularly, as a task I had started to organise before my leave, a workshop on co-creation in scientific research, was taking place in the Institute on 22nd of February - I could not miss it!

The part of the ORION project that the Institute is leading is about ‘co-creation’. Governmental and funding bodies in the UK support co-creation for its role in improving decision-making, but what is it and how do we do it? As I would have done in my previous role as a scientist, to answer this question I dived into a literature search. My search concluded that co-creation means to work collaboratively with different groups to create new value for existing processes or services. My desk research showed me what co-creation was, provided some examples of co-creation in the commercial and public sector, and identified some of the tools that were available, however it did not clarify how to carry it out. This was therefore the purpose of the workshop.
 
The workshop was built on the Institute’s previous experience and sought to share best practices among ORION consortia members from experts from across the UK on involving citizens in public dialogues on research and innovation and its funding. Among the speakers were Simon Burall, Director of Involve, an organisation that supports the UK Government to develop and deliver their science programme; Patrick Middleton, Associate Director of Communications and Engagement at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); and Katherine Gray, Research Grants Manager at Alzheimer’s Society UK.

Simon Burall explained that the starting point for a public dialogue is defining the purpose of the co-creation experience: what are the aims and who will listen to and act upon the results of the experiment? The following step is to define other project specifics as outcome, output, participants, budget, timeline and the institutional response to the results. Once this design is sound, which can take up to 18 months to prepare, it is time to put the whole plan to into action.

Katherine Gray talked about how the Alzheimer’s Society has incorporated public opinion into their funding schemes through their broad network of people affected directly or indirectly by Alzheimer’s disease. At different stages during the process of evaluating research grant proposals, volunteers provide their views, which informs the peer-review process and helps to make decisions in how to award the grants.

Dr. Patrick Middleton shared case studies of public dialogues supported by the BBSRC on Synthetic Biology, Bioenergy and Food, and Nutrition and Health. Patrick explained that the key elements common to all these public dialogues were a robust methodology, credibility, and that they were representative in terms of scale and usefulness of the results.

In the afternoon, delegates applied lessons learned from the morning session into the ORION project during two parallel sessions. One focussed on co-creation for research funders who are part of the ORION project and the other, for representatives of research organisations, revolved around Genome Editing as a case study.

The outcomes of the workshop will help consortia members to implement ORION tasks, including a novel co-creation funding call and a public dialogue on how to engage public audiences in Genome Editing - look out for further news after the summer.