‘Is that it?’ Using ‘explorachoc’ to engage the public with clinical trials and health services research

Heather May Morgan, Rebecca Bruce, Gordon Fernie, Heidi Rebecca Gardner, Beatriz Goulao, Joanna Kaniewska, Clare Robertson, Sharon Dee Wren, Kate Gillies

Research output: Contribution to journalAbstractpeer-review


Background: Public engagement is the interface between research and wider society. By helping to bring these two sometimes disparate worlds together, engagement can increase public trust and enhance relevance, accountability and transparency of, and in, research process(es) and researchers. Engagement is also important because it can empower people to become involved through offering their insights into and feedback on our work to help ensure that the research we conduct is relevant to the societies in which we live and are striving to improve. Bringing together colleagues’ experiences of, and interest in, public engagement with research, our team’s aim was to employ a strategic approach to deliver public engagement activities around clinical trials and health services research to demystify our work and facilitate public involvement.

Methods: We designed a two-arm trial, which we called ‘explorachoc’ to: demonstrate the randomisation process used in clinical trials; engage members of the public in conversations about clinical trials and health services research to solicit their perceptions and views; and recruit to a public involvement panel. We piloted this activity at the University of Aberdeen’s May Festival (28–29 May 2016) and ran amodified version as part of the University’s European Researchers’ Night/Explorathon event (30 September 2016). The trial involved:
double-blinded selection of either a blue or yellow ball (with equal chance of selecting either); depositing the ball in a large transparent jar to demonstrate the distribution of selection; ringing a randomisation bell; being given a chocolate with a blue or yellow (white or milk chocolate) wrapper, corresponding to the selected ball’s colour; and ranking the chocolate on a scale of 1 (low) - 4 (high). We then engaged participants in a range of conversations about the history of clinical trials (using costumes and props to re-enact James Lind’s
scurvy trial) and our research portfolio (supported by flyers and printed information). Finally, we asked participants whether they would be willing to be contacted to contribute to our public involvement panel.

Results: We randomised 365 people (48.5% blue) across the two events (83%
Explorathon). The median in the blue group was 4.0 Interquartile range- IQR (3.0-4.0) and 3.5 IQR (3.0-4.0) in the yellow group (Mann Whitney U p-value = 0.633). The resounding response was ‘Is that it?’ Regarding randomisation, which suggests that we were able to somewhat demystify the process of randomisation. Most participants understood the connections between clinical trials, health services research and the health and social care they receive. Many recounted anecdotes of surgical, drugs and other therapies they have experienced themselves or within their families and acknowledged the importance of engaging and/or being involved in the types of research
we do. 71 people volunteered their details for future contact regarding
public involvement.

Conclusions: We have established an approach to delivering public engagement
activities around clinical trials and health services research designed to demystify our work and facilitate public involvement. We have a proof of concept for an effective engagement model, enhanced by the use of chocolate, and are building on this to develop public engagement and involvement strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)P158
Issue numberSuppl 1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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