Public engagement

OxTALENT 2018 winners

Technology can be key to supporting public engagement with research and since we introduced this category four years ago, we have seen incredibly inspiring entries. This year did not disappoint. We have one honourable mention, a runner up and a winner, and the co-judges were Charlotte Medland, Humanities Division, and Alun Edwards, Academic IT.


Lesley Paterson, Shane McCracken and Michaela Livingstone-Banks for I'm a Researcher... get me out of here!

Researchers presenting at the 'I'm a researcher, get me out of here' live event at Curiosity Carnival 2017

Oxford researchers answer questions sent in by students at the on- and offline event

'I'm a researcher, get me out of here! Image by Ian Wallman

'I'm A Researcher... get me out of here!' is an exemplary account of an activity that did everything in its power to engage its target audience of school pupils and make a difference to their perception of research as a career.

The project involved real two-way engagement, with researchers opening up and responding to a wide range of unfiltered questions, both online and in person through a live final at Curiosity Carnival last September. The activity is innovative for Oxford in its all-encompassing inter-disciplinary nature, meaning that researchers took as much away from the experience as the pupils. Not only did they look at their subject through the eyes of others, but in the final event the researchers were challenged by the perspective of experts in other disciplines. This meant that the project's success was as two-way as its engagement, and its legacy shows how similar activity is made easier for other areas of the University thanks to the range of techniques used and the publication of a thorough evaluation of the project [pdf].

Runner up:

Tom Hart, Fiona Jones, Chris Lintott, Andrew Zisserman, Carlos Arteta, Caitlin Black, Grant Miller, Campbell Allen and Victor Lempitsky for Penguin Watch - a citizen science platform for large-scale penguin conservation

'Penguin Watch' deserves recognition as an excellent initiative that effectively engages the public in citizen science and respects their contribution.

To automate the collection and analysis of data that can be used to inform policy while also engaging and educating the public as to Antarctic research and conservation.

Penguin Watch mission statement

Photo of penguins, with an overlay of dots representing clicks by Penguin Watch volunteers

Half Moon Island, Shetland Islands, with 'raw clicks' of Penguin Watch volunteers

overlaid. Each dot represents a single click.

The project's mission statement highlights how the audience for, and purpose of, the engagement was always at the forefront of researchers’ minds. The digital platform makes it easy for public volunteers to annotate images, therefore turning raw research data from the automated cameras into a useable research resource and greatly enhancing the capacity of the project.

Alongside such a productive research tool, the project has become a true source of interest, education and enjoyment to its public volunteers, as demonstrated by the comments on the Penguin Watch website.

The project is now being used as a model for conservation research on other animals, and we congratulate the team on a truly 'engaged' and 'engaging' digital project!

Honourable mention:

Gabriela Pavarini, Jessica Lorimer, Arianna Manzini and Ilina Singh for Can your phone be your therapist? Young people's ethical perspectives on Chatbot Therapy

Screen grab from BBC Tomorrow's world: Prof Ilina Singh

BBC Tomorrow's World: Prof Ilina Singh speaks on Would you trust a chatbot therapist?

'Can your phone be your therapist?' is an excellent example of co-production between scientists and young people. The project focused on putting young people at the centre of public debate and decision-making for mental health support using automated conversational agents (i.e. chatbots): something we were surprised to learn is not standard practice when considering these tools and intervention, even though young people are the target audience. In the NEUROSEC Young People's Advisory Group (YPAG) the young participants explored the social and ethical concerns around three existing platforms:

  • Woebot
  • HelloJoy, and
  • Wysa

These respond to users in ways that mirror a real-life interaction to provide mental health support.

They also collaborated with Wellcome and BBC Tomorrow's World in a video on Chatbot Therapy. The project resulted in a co-written framework on what we consider to be minimum ethical standards for these platforms, and has been submitted to an academic journal.

Our commendation is for the true partnership at the centre of this project, which showcased brilliantly how research is enhanced by including its 'subjects' in the process. We would like to congratulate the researchers and their young partners for using this work towards real change in the way that chatbots are used, and we look forward to hearing what happens next!


Many congratulations to our well-deserved winners!

About this category

Public engagement describes the many ways in which the benefits of higher education can be shared with the public. High quality engagement involves two-way interaction between University staff and/or students with relevant external communities to the benefit of both parties; the ultimate goal is the enhancement of the quality and impact of the University's work. Technology can be used in many ways to enable public engagement activities:

  • supporting public engagement with the University's work,
  • broadening the appeal of Oxford to a variety of public communities, and/or
  • contributing to building capacity in this field.

The University's core strategic priorities for public engagement are set out in more detail in the Strategic Plan and Public Engagement with Research Web pages.

We also welcome submissions from entrants for The Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards, provided you have made significant use of digital tools in your work.

You are eligible to enter even if you've had professional help, but we ask you to let us know on the entry form what assistance you received. Find out how to enter.

What the judges will look for

Your entry will be assessed in terms of:

  • How clearly you have defined the purpose of your initiative/innovation, including the intended audience.
  • The extent to which the entry reflects University strategy in this field.
  • How innovative your entry is: i.e. how new it is in terms of public engagement activities at Oxford.
  • How you designed and implemented your initiative/innovation.
  • Whether the innovation is suitable for the intended audience.
  • Evidence of impact (qualitative and/or quantitative).
  • How far you have considered the legacy or sustainability of the initiative.
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