Public engagement partnerships

This has been a humbling and invaluable experience. I thought I knew something about communicating statistics, but sitting listening to enthusiastic users struggling to understand concepts made me realise my inadequacy.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter

Professor of public understanding of risk, University of Cambridge

Our public engagement team draws from extensive networks and over a decade of working on some of the trickiest issues concerning evidence. Our ethos is public-led, expert-fed – which means engaging early and directly with the public and addressing people’s questions and concerns.

Evidence Based Veterinary Medicine Matters

Veterinary leaders have come together to affirm their commitment to veterinary medicine based on sound scientific principles, in a new landmark publication produced by RCVS Knowledge and Sense about Science.

The commitment is set in the context of 14 case studies that showcase the impact of standout veterinary research and evidence. Spanning small animal, farm, equine, nursing, animal welfare and agriculture, the case studies show that different types of evidence have been key to  major steps forward in veterinary medicine.

The full commitment and portfolio of case studies can be read in Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine Matters.

UK Geoenergy Observatories

Since 2018, Sense about Science has been working with the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Natural Environment Council (NERC) to create an online open data resource to accompany the creation of, and research findings from, the UK Geoenergy Observatories. This is now available here:

Given the intense public debate about geoenergy, it is vital that everyone who is interested can get hold of sound, impartial information about it. By working with people with a range of perspectives, our hope is that all who visit the website – from people with a casual interest in the observatories, to local residents or specialist researchers – will find it informative and easy to use.

Read the full joint statement about the development of the UK Geoenergy Observatories and website.

10½ things you may not know about side effects (2019)

Everybody takes medicines, but not many people are aware of the side effects or what they can do about them. The Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science, based at the University of Liverpool, and  Sense about Science have collaborated to launch: “10½ things you may not know about side effects.” Developed following public workshops, the animation is designed to help people learn more about side effects – why they occur, how to manage them and how medicines can be made safer by reporting them.

Watch the video online and download the companion guide

Public engagement: a practical guide (2017)

This is a practical guide for researchers on involving the public in working out how to communicate findings – from the earliest stages of projects, and on the most challenging of subjects. It draws on our experience of working with researchers on socially or scientifically difficult issues of public interest. We use the Understanding Children’s Heart Surgery Outcomes project as a case study throughout the guide. The project and guide were funded by the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research Programme.

Making Sense of Forensic Genetics (2017)

Making Sense of Forensic Genetics sets out the role of DNA analysis in the criminal justice system, what its limitations are, and what might be possible in the future. DNA analysis has revolutionised forensic science. However, forensic experts have raised concerns that how DNA can be used in criminal investigations and in court is often misunderstood and misrepresented. This guide is a useful resource to anyone interested in or who crosses paths with DNA evidence in the criminal justice system. It was the result of a partnership with researchers at EUROFORGEN (European Forensic Genetics Network of Excellence). The guide has received financial support from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 285487.

Understanding Children's Heart Surgery Outcomes (2016)

Understanding Children’s Heart Surgery Outcomes publishes the results of different surgical units in the UK and Ireland in a way that allows parents, patients, regulators and doctors to see and understand why a hospital’s survival rate for children’s heart surgery needs to take into account how severely ill their patients were. We took a good look at all the voices, questions and concerns in public discussion about children’s heart surgery, created and user-tested a website to ‘speak’ to those discussions. The website development was part of a project funded by the NIHR, led by Dr Christina Pagel, a mathematician from University College London.

The UK Longevity Explore (UbbLE) (2015)

A public-facing website that generates the risk of mortality for an individual based on a series of questions. Our role was to enable the public to use the findings of the research, and to prevent misinterpretation. Rather than providing a sensational prediction the final risk calculator used very clear language to responsibly communicate the risks, using clear visuals. The project was a collaboration with Professor Erik Ingelsson, Uppsala University, Sweden and Dr Andrea Ganna, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden who funded the project.

Making Sense of Screening (2015 - second edition)

Making Sense of Screening explains the balance of benefits and harms of health screening programmes. Public expectations about screening don’t always match what screening programmes can deliver. The specific benefits of screening programmes and the sensitive calculation of these against possible harm had been largely lost from public view. It is important to know about the limitations, both to be properly informed about screening you might be invited to take part in and to understand why screening programmes are offered to some parts of the population and not others. This was produced in collaboration with the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine, the Institute of Biomedical Science and the Royal College of Pathologists. New edition printed in 2015 with support from The Royal College of Pathologists and the Institute of Biomedical Science.

Environment and Health Atlas (2014)

The Atlas maps potential environmental agents and a range of diseases across the UK over a 25-year period. This project was such an admirable effort to make statistics accessible but had the potential for the most alarming headlines about the worst town for brain cancer in England, or advice on where to move to ‘for less breast cancer risk’. So when working on the launch, we made sure that what the maps DON’T tell us, was just as clear as what they DO. The Atlas was a partnership with the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU).

Making Sense of Uncertainty (2013)

Making Sense of Uncertainty explains why uncertainty is part of science. In public discussion, scientific uncertainty is often presented as a deficiency of research. In reality, it’s an essential part of scientific research. We have looked at what uncertainty means and doesn’t mean in science, how it is measured, when it can’t be measured and how that might change through research into the big questions. Above all we asked how the public can grapple constructively with advances in knowledge and changes in thinking, instead of despairing at ‘those uncertain scientists’. his guide has brought together specialists in many areas – in collaboration with BBSRC, the John Innes Centre, the Natural Environment Research Council, the University of Reading and the Walker Institute. Reprinted in 2014 with support from All Souls College, University of Oxford, the Winton Programme for the Public Understanding of Risk and the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh.

Making Sense of Statistics (2010)

A guide to what statistics tell you and how to ask the right questions. Statistics are used to measure and make sense of the world. But when confronted with stories such as “Crime rate rising again”, “Polls put Tories up to 7% ahead”, “Child heart surgery halted at hospital after four deaths” or “Swine flu ‘could kill up to 120m’”, how can we work out whether to believe them and what they really mean? This guide is not a lesson in statistics. It provides the questions to ask and identifies the pitfalls to avoid to help you get behind news stories that use statistics. A collaboration with Straight Statistics (now part of Full Fact) and the Royal Statistical Society.

Making Sense of Radiation (2008)

A guide to radiation and its health effects including the different kinds of radiation, their impact on health, and why some claims in news, commentary and advertising are wrong. A review of the public discussion at the start of this project drew out two underlying assumptions: that all radiation causes cancer and that ‘scans’ are often not seen as radiation. This led them to realise that the essential context showing a spectrum of radiation was missing from many research communications. Once the public knew they could ask, “What type of radiation is it?” they were able to consider whether they needed to be protected from it. The guide was produced in partnership with the British Institute of Radiology, the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the support of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland Section of IEEE.


If you would like our help with a public engagement partnership please get in touch. We will consider public engagement partnership for socially or scientifically difficult issues where researchers make a convincing case that it is a matter of public interest and that evidence is neglected, conflicting or misunderstood. To apply for partnership, or to discuss your project, contact Emily Jesper-Mir (

More information about our public engagement partnerships.