The medical device sector relies on the detail-oriented and often cutting-edge research of fundamental scientists. This type of research requires public funding to survive. As such, engaging effectively and meaningfully with the public in the research undertaken, for people to understand and appreciate the importance of funding lab-based, discovery research is vital for continued public support and investment. However, scientists face considerable challenges in effectively and efficiently communicating the content and potential societal value of their endeavours.1 Research centres can support scientists to communicate the societal impact potential of their research activities and engage with public groups.2
This paper presents a case study of the education and public engagement (EPE) initiative at CÚRAM SFI (Science Foundation Ireland) Research Centre for Medical Devices. The centre is focused on the development of biomedical implants, therapeutic and diagnostic devices that address the needs of patients living with chronic illness. CÚRAM established an EPE initiative to support their researchers in science communication and public engagement. The programme is centred around three core pillars, connecting medical device science with the public through collaborations between scientists and filmmakers, educators and artists.
Using a case study research methodology, due to its value in investigating contemporary context specific phenomena3, a retrospective exploration of the first five years (2015-2019) of the EPE initiative at CÚRAM was carried out. A combination of primary and secondary data sources were incorporated into the study, including interviews with participants, various evaluation efforts of the EPE team, annual reports, and supplementary materials. A logic model analysis approach was chosen to capture the breadth and depth of the programme's societal impact potential.4
A number of novel strengths and challenges were identified across the three EPE pillars for communicating and connecting fundamental bench research to the public that funds it. The wide variety and novelty of engagement and collaboration strategies, with a focus on facilitating participants to cocreate the outputs of each project, was identified as key to the long term impact potential of the programme. These different pillars, in combination, offered a suite of approaches and strategies to connect sustainably with a widely diverse set of public audiences. Other strengths of the programme included high levels of scientist engagement, clear benefits of EPE for scientists, a growing network of collaborators and funders, the variety in public education and engagement strategies for different audiences, and the overall novelty of the programme. A number of challenges for the different stakeholder groups was also identified.
CÚRAM’s EPE initiative provides a practical example of how life science-oriented research centres can support their research communities to engage meaningfully and sustainably with public groups, communicating the impact potential of medical device research to the public that ultimately funds it.
- Rose, K. M. et al., Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, 117(3), 1274-1276, (2020).
- Dolan, B. et al, Management Decision, 57, 3406-3425, (2019).
3. Yin, R. K., Sage, (2018)
- Reynolds, H. W., & Sutherland, E. G., BMC health services research, 13(1), 1-11, (2013)."