Image: Attendees at the 2018 Wellcome International Engagement Workshop | Minh Tan

The field of community and public engagement generally seeks to involve the public and community groups with the research that will impact their lives. However, they are often left out of the processes that translate research into policy and practice. If health research seeks to improve people’s lives, then the policies implemented because of it should also be shaped around the interests, needs and lived realities of the people it will affect. Integration of community and policy engagement is therefore vital.

How to bridge the public-policy divide was discussed by a group at the 2018 Wellcome International Engagement Workshop.

Community and public engagement (CPE) practitioners and those working on engagement at research institutions wanted channels to be created between themselves and policymakers, so that policymakers could be made aware of, and make use of, the findings of CPE practitioners as well as identifying research that could be transformative early on.

Attendees agreed that to be effective this should become a more systemic change to the nature of policy development, whereby communication between researchers, engagement practitioners, communities and policymakers should be regular and sustainable. For this to be effective, work needs to be done so that those in positions of power see learning that comes from the community as legitimate and valuable.

A meeting in June 2018 for delegates from Wellcome’s Africa and Asia Programmes (AAPs) demanded more institutional support for policy work, and out of this came plans for a Policy Engagement Network. The network would aim to advocate for institutional support for policy work, and to understand that there is already huge expertise within communities; discussions between these groups and policymakers need to be facilitated. The Network plan has currently been put on hold, but the ideas and actions that came out of the workshops and the initial network scoping continue to inform Wellcome’s strategic policy-public plans.

Members of this network and attendees at the workshop agreed that cultural context is vital in this field: in some countries, policymakers already work with communities, whereas in others there is little to no infrastructure to support this. There will be no one size fits all solution. It is important to remember that researchers as well as funders often need to be politically neutral, and so by pushing too hard for specific policy changes, their impartiality could be at risk.

This discussion highlighted how much work there is to be done to involve the public in policy decisions, and how valuable this is, but also the complexity of changing such a system.


The content on this page forms part of the online report for the 2018 International Engagement Workshop “Taking it to the Next Level: How can we generate leadership and develop practice in engagement?". To learn more about the workshop, access the rest of the report and browse the video presentations, discussion summaries, and tools, visit the workshop page 

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