Jan 11, 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
Profile of the reviewed literature
Arts-based engagement in research