MRC Population Health Research Unit (MRC PHRU) staff engage the public in their work to increase understanding of research results and processes, and to build trust in scientists. Our engagement is guided by three purposes: to inform and inspire, to consult and listen to public views, and to collaborate with the public on particular projects.
One area of activity has been to develop children’s knowledge of the world of data. The challenge was for highly specialised scientists to explain their work in a way that primary-school aged children would understand and find fun.
Bring on the Data Games! In four table-based activities set in a LEGO factory scenario players compare different methods of moving LEGO bricks, build towers and create bar charts while learning the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, what meta-analysis is, and why it is useful.
Children and parents played the Data Games at the IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival and Oxford Open Doors events in 2019 and at the Oxford Maths Festival in 2020, when the team spent a day at Pegasus Primary School with children in years 4 and 5.
The games were created by members of the Vascular Overviews Group, part of the MRC Population Health Research Unit's Vascular Meta-analyses Programme.
'The joy comes from seeing them at the beginning looking a bit lost, then they just get that light bulb moment and the enthusiasm runs away with them. Suddenly they are full of ideas about data.'
Heather Halls, Research Associate
Fake news 2020
Fake news and misinformation are a threat to public trust in scientific research. They undermine years of work, and risk devastating consequences for health. The ‘anti-vax’ campaign against the MMR vaccine has led to a re-emergence of measles and misinformation deters some people from taking medicines from which they would benefit.
In January 2020 Radio 4 presenter Sarah Montague facilitated a stimulating discussion of the challenges presented by fake news between Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, and Damian Collins MP and former chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. The event, 'An Oxford Conversation about the Impact of Fake News on our Lives' was held in the Sheldonian Theatre, and was attended by nearly 600 members of the public.
OPEN DOORS 2019
The annual Oxford Open Doors event sees many buildings in the city open their doors to the public. In September 2019, 240 members of the public visited the Big Data Institute/Nuffield Department of Population Health Building which houses some MRC PHRU staff, to enjoy a day of science exploration and engagement.
Through hands-on activities with staff from the Wolfson Laboratory members of the public learned about the components of blood, how samples are processed and how a lab test is carried out. Visitors also participated in talks about big data.
An exciting mix of public engagement activities, mainly digital and online, is planned for 2021. There will be a focus on explaining MRC PHRU’s work on meta-analyses of randomised trials, particularly around statins, the cholesterol-lowering group of drugs.
We are developing a series of activities following consultation with members of the public in informal focus groups.