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Diverse voices, better outcomes

Two teenage boys sit, facing away from the camera and looking at a laptop running the game Minecraft
Blog posts

Katie Oldfield

11 Sept 2023

Public Engagement Manager, Katie Oldfield, shares an update on the projects funded by our Public Engagement Fund and how they are working to involve diverse voices.

Public sector data (such as health data) can provide vital insights to help recognise and address inequalities in society. For example, research from the Grampian Regional Equality Council, one of the recipients of our Public Engagement Fund, suggests that the areas of the region with the lowest health outcomes are also home to higher than average proportions of ethnic minorities, and that ethnic minorities have an overall lower level of satisfaction with health services. 

Despite this, discussions around how public sector data is used in research often exclude those who are most affected. When we launched our Public Engagement Fund in January 2023, we knew that we had a responsibility to encourage applications from a broad range of organisations that reach people from a wide range of backgrounds. Throughout the process, from developing the fund criteria to reading proposals and allocating funding, we kept focus on ensuring that the projects we selected were reaching diverse voices across Scotland, and particularly those who are not usually involved in conversations about data. 

Four months in, we’re delighted with the work our Public Engagement Fund recipients have made to reach a wide range of audiences.

Going where the people are

In April, I visited Edinburgh Science Festival and caught up with Generation Scotland, who were exhibiting their work and talking to young people about how data is used in health research, youth loneliness, and how they can get involved.

Generation Scotland is Scotland’s largest family health and wellbeing study, looking to improve the health and wellbeing of current and future generations in Scotland. They’re creating resources to engage members of the public at large-scale events including science festivals and the Royal Highland show; actively reaching out to diverse audience groups with a focus on underrepresented groups including young people, LGBTQIA communities and those in rural Scotland.

Three people hold models of brains. They are standing in front of a banner that reads
Generation Scotland have been at events including Glasgow Science Festival

It was great to visit the team at Edinburgh Science Festival and see the positive discussions they’re generating by taking complex concepts and creating tangible, hands-on activities to generate open, informal conversations. 

Even for those interested in getting involved in data, it can be difficult to find a route in. Breaking down the barriers to learning about the impact of data is vital to empowering underrepresented voices in society, and the University of Edinburgh has made approachability a core part of its ‘Data in Biological Research’ project.

They’re using the computer game Minecraft to empower young people to explore pandemic preparedness and how large scale data can be used to inform policy. It’s been fantastic to see the team take a creative approach to engagement, using a platform that’s already familiar to their audience to engage young people in a fun, accessible way.

Three children sit at laptops, facing away from the camera, playing Minecraft
The 'Data in Biological Research' project is using Minecraft to engage young people

The team have been trialling the activity with children and families at events across Scotland, including the Fife STEM Futures Festival in June and the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival in July.

Generation Scotland and the ‘Data in Biological Research’ projects are both great examples of one of the cornerstones of good public involvement and engagement – going to users, not waiting for them to come to us. By sharing potentially complex ideas in forms and settings that are recognisable to their audiences, the projects are creating robust and involved public engagement with a diverse range of users. 

Understanding diverse voices 

It’s vital to ensure that public engagement work extends further than those who frequently have a ‘seat at the table’, which includes reaching people who live, work or study in different areas of Scotland. 

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental principles of the Grampian Regional Equality Council’s project, ‘How Fair is North-East Scotland?’. Meeting with participants in focus groups later this year, the project team are looking to understand three key questions: 

  1. How do people in marginalised communities feel about research and their involvement with it?
  2. What are some mutually beneficial ways people from their communities could be more involved in the future?
  3. What barriers would need to be mitigated to facilitate this kind of involvement? 

Meanwhile, The University of Dundee’s ‘Drug Harm Prevention Research’ project has been making great progress in their work exploring perceptions of the use of administrative data in research among people who use drugs.

Working with Restoration Fife, a community organisation for people in recovery from drug and alcohol use, they’ve been hosting sessions to learn group members’ views. The teams are working together to produce a short animated film to be shared among the community and create a lasting impact.

Two people facing away from the camera are sticking post-it notes onto a long sheet of paper. The paper has notes from a discussion about data written and illustrated on it
The 'Drug Harm Prevention Research' team are hosting workshops to understand how people who use drugs view data research

Before we can start tackling the issues preventing marginalised communities from having a voice in data and research, we first need to understand these barriers. These projects will be a key step in this process, and I’m excited to see how their work progresses over the coming months.

Read more about our Public Engagement Fund recipients in Katie's blog, 'Creating a lasting impact through public engagement'.

Find out more about our Public Engagement Fund recipients.

Note: Funding from the RDS Public Engagement Fund was also awarded to CodeClan, an Edinburgh-based digital skills academy, which has since sadly entered liquidation and ceased trading. The project therefore may not be able to continue. 

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