Cover: Arts-based approaches to public engagement with research

Arts-based approaches to public engagement with research

Lessons from a rapid review

Published Jan 11, 2021

by Sarah Ball, Brandi Leach, Jennifer Bousfield, Pamina Smith, Sonja Marjanovic

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Research Questions

  1. Why are arts-based approaches used for public engagement with research, and what do researchers aim to achieve by using arts-based approaches?
  2. What does arts-based engagement with research look like in practice, and what influences how it unfolds?
  3. What is known about the effectiveness and impact of arts-based engagement approaches?

There is growing interest in the use of approaches to public engagement with research that use the arts to facilitate engagement. However, there is a lack of systematic and consolidated learning about how arts-based approaches work in practice and about their effectiveness. To help respond to this gap in the knowledge base, The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute at Cambridge University commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a rapid review of the evidence on the use and effectiveness of arts-based approaches for public engagement with research. The findings of this report are based on a literature review that followed the principles of a rapid evidence assessment, complemented by interviews with six experts in the field of arts-based public engagement.

Key Findings

What arts-based-engagement looks like in practice

Arts-based approaches to public engagement take a wide variety of forms, including the visual arts (e.g. photography, video animations, digital media, drawing, paintings, sculpture); the performing arts (theatre, storytelling through audio dramas); and the use of games and immersive art installations that seek to engage the public with research findings in an interactive way, as some examples.

Influences on how arts-based engagement unfolds

There are a variety of influences on the processes and impacts of arts-based engagement. These include not only particular features of the arts-based engagement approaches themselves, but also available resources and infrastructure, and the skills and experience of the stakeholders involved. Of particular importance, and specific to arts-based engagement rather than public engagement more widely, is the need to build trusting relationships and navigate power dynamics between researchers and artists throughout the engagement. In addition, building in evaluation components and stakeholder support for dissemination and uptake-related activities are also important influences with respect to achieving impact from a given engagement effort.

Impact and outcomes

The evidence base on the effectiveness of arts-based approaches for public engagement with research is limited by a lack of systematic evaluation. These types of engagement approaches are challenging to evaluate. Their aims are not always clearly established at their onset, as different stakeholders can bring different interests into the process and the emergence that characterises the development of some arts-based interventions can add an additional layer of complexity for evaluators. There are also various practical barriers to robust evaluation in this context. Despite these challenges, there is some evidence that arts-based public engagement approaches can: help researchers to meet their goals for public engagement (i.e. to achieve engagement as a goal in itself); improve the quality or effectiveness of current and future research; and support the achievement of wider research impact.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute) and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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