Image: Imran presenting at the workshop | Minh Tan

Imran Khan, Head of Public Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, presented Wellcome’s public engagement strategy to attendees at the 2018 Wellcome International Engagement Workshop. The Wellcome Trust is a charitable foundation based in the UK that funds research into health. The majority of its funding goes to UK-based researchers, but it also has many global investments, such as their Africa and Asia Programmes (AAPS).

Imran argued that traditionally, public engagement activities have been thought of as fitting into three camps: Transmit, Receive (or consult), and Collaborate.

Image: The three traditional types of engagement activity 

People in public engagement have traditionally seen any shift from a ‘transmit’ model to ‘collaborate’ or ‘receive’ as a good thing and sought to promote that shift. Wellcome is now trying to break away from this model – and instead of valuing the mechanism of engagement, places more focus on the outcomes.

In other words, rather than being values-based, Wellcome’s new strategy encourages the view that engagement should always be oriented around solving problems, giving it a clear rationale that is easily rallied around and shared.

What’s Wrong with Values-Based?

Working with a values-based, rather than problem-based, strategy came with challenges. It was very hard to measure the impact of activities, and as such difficult to get buy-in from others, as it meant other people had to share your implicit values in order for you to work with them. However, with the new problems-oriented strategy, there is a much stronger focus on outcomes and the problems being solved through engagement activities.

The new strategy has three main goals:

  • Empowering people: helping people access, use, respond to and create health research and innovation
  • People-centred health research: understanding people’s experiences and using that knowledge to improve Wellcome’s work
  • Helping society value our work: bridging the gap between Wellcome and society so that research and innovation are trustworthy and valued by people, whether or not we work with them.

Since this strategy is new, Imran stated that Wellcome don’t necessarily know how to achieve those goals yet. For that reason, the approach taken by Wellcome is agile, user-centred and focused on learning and adaptation. To do this, it is vital to get better evidence on the research and activities being funded by Wellcome. By making the most of the institutions and relationships supported by Wellcome and the PE team, commissioning new research and data on the impact of engagement work, focusing on prioritisation of goals and a new global outlook, Wellcome is hoping to make a success of this new problems-based approach to engagement.

Download Imran’s presentation here (PDF).


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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