Reaching new public members in a virtual world

On Mon 29th June we hosted an online webinar titled ‘Reaching public members in a virtual work’. We discussed challenges, opportunities and ideas to reach out and work with public members in the current circumstances. It focused on those who often face additional barriers to involvement and participation in health research – and are not always heard or well listened to.

In this blog I (Caroline Barker) will briefly touch on some of my highlights from the event.  

The Yin and Yang of virtual activities

It was clear that while virtual activities can exclude some, it can also open the door for others. 43% of our audience have seen new people engaging with their work since the pandemic. This included those who were housebound or had mobility issues, those living further away and those with limited time (eg. parents, those working full time).

“There’s been a huge benefit to me. I’m able to participate in ways I couldn’t before”

Anna Kenyon

We were reminded that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to virtual events. What works for one person might create a barrier for others. Louca-Mai spoke about how poll questions worked really well to encourage some young people to have their say. However, they were not accessible for others due to the small text.

You don’t make a film by filming a play from the best seats in the house

Sophia used the above quote to highlight to us all that we shouldn’t just take something we did offline and try to run it how we would in person in an online setting.

“There’s things you can do online that you can’t do anywhere else and there’s many advantages.”

Sophia Collins

The importance of language

There was a lot of discussion about language. Tess spoke about how we can often, incorrectly, link the barriers that people face to something inherent within that person. This links to the critique of ‘hard-to-reach’, which implies there is something about that group that makes them difficult. Julian described it perfectly, saying in reality those who are hard-to-reach are actually those at the top of organisations.

“I don’t think I could…ask for a cup of tea with the Queen”

Julian Harrison

Budgeting adequately for inclusive research

We were reminded that digital engagement is not cost-free and this can be a particular barrier for some. There was also agreement that we should value and recognise community groups as partners in research and this extends to adequately budgeting for their efforts. 

“Without a real commitment to a financial framework to support, a research project will always continue to keep barriers up”

Grace McCorkle

This is more than a public involvement issues

Diversity and inclusion needs to be addressed across all levels of research organisations, including PPI, project levels, boards, committees and staffing.

Equality impact assessments can be applied to PPI and research projects and were strongly advocated by speakers and audience alike. Bella shared how they are forming a health inequalities steering group to influence senior management to change the way things are done. Many of the individuals behind the Community Voices initiative were people from the communities most at risk.

“We were not talking about these communities we are part of these communities”

Meerat Kaur

This is a time for action

We have been talking about these types of issues for many years. Our speakers expressed a need to see this particular period of events in 2020 as really putting things into perspective, reflecting and driving real change. If not now, then when?

“If we’re not going to make some of the changes that we need to make now I wonder when we’ll ever do it”

Josephine Ocloo

View the full recording on YouTube (subtitles available)
Download the meeting transcript or slides.
View the in-meeting chat discussions (grouped based on the themes identified during the session)
See the results of our audience poll questions

This event could not have happened without the generous donation of time from Sally Crowe and all our speakers: Josephine Ocloo, Anna Kenyon, Louca-Mai Brady, Tess McManus, Meerat Kaur, Julian Harrison, Grace McCorkle, Sophia Collins and Bella Starling.


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