This report is based on conversations that took place at the Wellcome Trust’s fourth international engagement workshop: ‘Engaging with impact: how do we know if we have made a difference?’ The workshop took place in South Africa in October 2012.

Engagement with science includes diverse activities and interactions between different groups. As researchers, engagement practitioners, communicators and artists, engagement is about the exchange of ideas, opinions and practice between research and communities, the public and policy makers. There are many ways to engage in different contexts, depending on the type of science, the characteristics of the engaging participants and what these different groups would like to achieve through the engagement process.

Engagement is an integral part of health research. Many people who fund and conduct such research are increasingly accepting and promoting engagement. With engagement firmly established, it is time to think about the quality and impact of these activities. How do we know whether engagement is achieving its aims? Are we having the ‘impact’ that we are being asked to demonstrate? How do we build an evidence base to inform and advocate for engagement practice?

Reasons to monitor and evaluate engagement activities include: 

  • accountability (‘downwards’ to communities, as well as ‘upwards’ to donors) 
  • validation of an activity and its findings 
  • management and allocation of resources, such as funding  strategy and planning of engagement work (now and future) 
  • influencing policy and advocating for change 
  • learning and sharing learning

It can be difficult to decide on the most effective way to monitor and evaluate engagement activities when faced with a diverse range of objectives, agendas, audiences and mechanisms for engagement.

This workshop explored elements of monitoring and evaluation, including: 

  • what is engagement trying to achieve? 
  • is it all about impact? 
  • indicators: what and how? 
  • the challenges of monitoring and evaluation 
  • monitoring and evaluation frameworks and tools

Participants had backgrounds in engagement practice, social science research and international development. Together they discussed the real and practical challenges they each faced when trying to evaluate engagement activities. Their experiences are described throughout this report. The Wellcome Trust staff also presented some of the approaches they have used to monitor and evaluate engagement.

There is no one ‘right’ way to do monitoring and evaluation. It is important to create space to think carefully about why we are doing things and find out what we really need to know. Take regular time to reflect on what your monitoring is telling you: doing this matters as much as any particular framework or technical tool.

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