Public engagement in practice

At ADR UK, we define our public engagement as a purposeful set of activities designed to promote an ongoing dialogue with the public about administrative data research, driven by active listening and responding. This enables us to enrich understanding for all parties involved and maximise the impact of research, ensuring activities are meaningful and mutually beneficial. More information can be found in the ADR UK Public Engagement Strategy, 2021 – 2026.

This section details all you need to know when starting out in public engagement. You can keep scrolling, or alternatively navigate using the links below.

Breaking down our public engagement objectives 

ADR UK’s public engagement has the following two core objectives:

1. Demonstrate trustworthiness: By listening and responding to public views on how administrative data should be used for research at every stage of our work, and meeting public expectations over and above formal legal requirements, our goal is to demonstrate trustworthiness.

Demonstrating trustworthiness’ implies that this is an ongoing process. This is different to ‘achieving public acceptability’ or ‘establishing trust’, which assumes trust is gained and retained without ongoing engagement. We must strive to continuously demonstrate trustworthiness as data research and the broader data landscape evolve.

2. Maximise public benefit: Public engagement is an essential mechanism for understanding people’s needs and interests, to ensure research using administrative data is geared towards achieving the greatest public benefit possible.

When thinking about ‘maximising public benefit’, it is helpful to imagine a feedback loop. This loop involves utilising feedback from the public to inform research aimed at improving people’s lives. Feedback from the public can also help to inform research questions, project design, dissemination of findings, and future areas of research interest.

 

Public engagement principles to follow

Our five public engagement principles set the basis for how we go about achieving our engagement objectives. They ensure that our activities are ethical, designed for impact, and aligned to our values and those of the wider discipline of public engagement with research. These can be considered as a checklist when thinking about doing public engagement:

1. Meaningful public engagement: Using appropriate methods to engage the public with a clear purpose at every stage of our work is crucial, as is evaluating and adapting our approaches to ensure they are effective.

Think about why you want to do public engagement and what you want to learn from your public stakeholders. This can help determine at what stage(s) to do public engagement (i.e., developing your research question or informing dissemination) and in which form (e.g., focus groups or a consultation). Remember, this can be an ongoing process over the course of your project. In fact, bringing in public perspectives from the outset and continuing engagement across the lifecourse of your project can further enrich your findings and maximise the public benefit of your work.

2. A mutually beneficial relationship: We take a dialogue-based approach to listening and responding to public views regarding our work, while enabling our researchers to gain new insights and ideas to develop more impactful research.

At ADR UK, we consider public engagement as a feedback loop rather than a show-and-tell exercise. Rather than engaging for the sake of engagement, be mindful that both parties seek to benefit by working together.

3. Being accountable: It is important that we not only listen to the public, but act upon what they tell us. Ensuring there are appropriate mechanisms for feeding the findings of our public engagement into our work is essential.

It is best practice to have a plan to assume accountability when engaging with your public stakeholders to avoid tokenistic engagement. The people you engage with will feel invested in your research so it is important to communicate progress and the findings or final outputs to them, preferably in an accessible way.

4. Being inclusive: The voices we hear via our public engagement should be inclusive. Engaging with a diverse range of voices from across different backgrounds and identities and adapting our approaches to reduce any barriers to engagement is crucial to this.

Being inclusive can take the form of engaging people who seldomly engage with data, people of varying backgrounds, people of varying ages, etc. What is important to note here is providing opportunities for a variety of people to engage with research and being mindful of inclusive (i.e., accessible) methods and locations for engagement. If you aren’t sure what ‘inclusivity’ looks like, you can consult a public contributor or a public panel.

5. Openness and transparency: Telling the public about our engagement and how we are implementing its findings is essential for demonstrating trustworthiness. Regular, open communication about our work, which is clear and accessible to diverse audiences, is key.

Sometimes we will receive feedback that is insightful in its own right but beyond the scope of our research. It is important to remember that just because we can’t always act on the feedback doesn’t mean the public engagement exercise wasn’t meaningful. You can manage expectations by being open and transparent about frequency of engagement (ad hoc or regular), the purpose of the public engagement activity(s), how the public engagement findings may inform your research, the length of the research process, etc.
 

How to get the public involved in your research

There are a variety of ways to engage the public in research. Some methods most commonly used within ADR UK are:

  • public panels
  • working with the third sector
  • working with children and young people
  • public dialogue
  • events.

Public panels

Working with public panels can be a great way to test an idea or have deliberative discussion with people who can represent the broader public.

There are currently two running public panels within ADR UK:

Public panels for England and Northern Ireland are currently in scope for consultation and advice on specific areas of ADR England and ADR Northern Ireland research.

Please get in touch if you want to engage with either of these panels. If you like the idea of working with the public in this way but for some reason aren’t able to work with a public panel, then consider appointing a public contributor to advise on your work. You can work with them one-on-one or include them in meetings if your project has an advisory group.

Working with the third sector

The third sector includes charities, voluntary groups and other not-for-profit organisations. Engaging with these groups can help you to understand the research needs of specific communities and sub-sectors of society. Working with the third sector has many benefits:

  • they provide a gateway to elevating the voices of vulnerable populations, particularly if there is a high risk involved in direct engagement
  • they lobby or campaign for change and are therefore not necessarily politically neutral; this means they can be a vessel to influence policymaking. 

A great way to work with third sector organisations is to bring them together as part of a deliberative roundtable discussion. Alternatively, you can appoint representatives from third sector organisations to join your project advisory group.

Below are some examples of how ADR UK works with the third sector.

  • ADR Northern Ireland holds a Data Workshop Series around themes of interest to both researchers and local organisations. These focus on raising awareness among third sector groups about the power and potential of data in their own work and how complex questions can be answered using data, as well as embedding positive working relationships with the third sector. Furthermore, by bringing key stakeholders onto steering committees for each of its projects, ADR NI maximises engagement with people and organisations with differing expertise and knowledge of the issues researchers are exploring.
  • ADR Scotland conducts project-specific dialogue involving engagement with third sector organisations able to speak on behalf of the publics and communities relevant to each of ADR Scotland's projects, for example working with the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care on the Deaths at Home project. ADR Scotland also benefits from having third party groups and experts as members of their Advisory Groups for each of its projects, bringing key knowledge and a vast array of experience.
  • ADR Wales holds stakeholder workshops with devolved and local government and third sector organisations to get feedback on work already done and gain input on future work.
  • ADR England oversees community representative panels made up of third sector representatives, practitioners and others working directly with or on behalf of particular groups. For example, the Data First User Representation Panel is made up of representatives from organisations that work directly with or on behalf of people with experience of the justice systems. Meanwhile, the ADR England Children & Young People Representative Panel is made up of people working directly with or on behalf of children. These panels help shape administrative data research to deliver the greatest possible benefits for the public.

Working with children and young people

ADR UK is committed to ensuring that the rights and voices of children and young people are represented appropriately. Projects that use data about children and young people are informed either by direct engagement with children and young people, or by expert representatives, such as members of the ADR England Children & Young People Representative Panel.

Just as every person within society has a right to be informed about how and why their data is being used, children are no exception. In June 2023, ADR UK published its approach to engaging with children and young people. The approach includes a commitment to inclusive ways of working including:

  • making our work more accessible
  • involving children more frequently in research
  • championing children’s rights and voices in the data landscape
  • responding to the views and needs of children and young people.

The approach was developed following a pilot study (2022) undertaken by ADR Scotland partner, the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR), on directly engaging with children and young people about their data.

Some third sector organisations will have their own panel of children and young people, who can help to facilitate engagement. Alternatively, you can seek out existing groups of children and young people, such as afterschool citizen groups, and ask to join a pre-existing meeting to discuss your research.

Public dialogue

Public dialogue is an emerging area our public engagement work, involving one-off focus groups and workshops with members of the public to explore their views towards particular questions relating to the use of administrative data for research. Public dialogue provides space for learning and rich, deliberative discussion and are designed to explore one topic in depth. Public dialogues often take the form of workshops or focus groups with deliberative discussion. The premise of deliberation is to logically and incrementally build up a shared understanding through interactive activities and knowledge-sharing, while giving participants the tools to interrogate their understanding and original viewpoints. These tools are comprehensive yet accessible materials which incorporate both the pros and cons and a more nuanced range of perspectives on the topic of interest, and extensive time and space for reflection and questions. Small groups of differently situated people, supported by a neutral facilitator, allow participants to learn from each other and safely develop their ideas. 

In 2022, ADR UK partnered with the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) to launch a public dialogue to better understand public perceptions of public good, particularly in relation to the use of data and statistics. In the same year,  ADR Scotland partner SCADR collaborated with Children in Scotland to develop a pilot project to engage directly with children and young people. You can learn more about the ADR UK – OSR public dialogue in the case study within this section.

Events

ADR UK also runs and participates in public events to raise awareness about our work and the motivation behind it, and to engage with interested communities around the UK. Events are considered to be public engagement activities if they include an element of listening and responding. This can be done by actively engaging with attendees, recording responses, and generating a mechanism to share the findings.

Stories of public engagement 

The following case studies include resources and videos provided by people with experience of public engagement for data research. 

If you have a request, or want to share your work, then get in touch with Shayda Kashef, Senior Public Engagement Manager at ADR UK.

You can also watch Shayda's video below, which introduces this section and its purpose.