13 Jan 2017: Campus Engage/Irish Research Council Media Release - Engaged Research – a joined-up approach to tackling the big issues

Launch of report “Engaged Research – Society & Higher Education Working Together to Address Grand Societal Challenges”.

— Pictured were Professor Ray O’’Neill, Chair, Campus Engage with Professor Philip Nolan, Chair, Irish Universities Association, Deirdre Garvey, Chief Executive Officer, The Wheel and Dr Eucharia Meehan, Director, Irish Research Council . Picture Jason Clarke.

All across Ireland, academics are actively working with the public, NGOs and government on ‘engaged research’ projects that aim to solve many of the great social issues of our times.  Today’s report launched at the Mansion House Dublin by Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of the Irish Universities Association, shines the spotlight on engaged research and establishes a new framework for this vital work.

“The Framework provided in this Report on how to deliver engaged research is the first of its kind, and completely unique. It is informed by the public and researchers, for the public and researchers! It is directly responding to our national and EU Government policy to make higher education outputs more responsible to the public and agile to societal demands”. Prof Ray O’Neill, Campus Engage Chair

Engaged Research emphasises the active involvement of the public, product and service users in the research process. This joined up approach has seen members of the public gathering data on biodiversity in rural Ireland, researchers developing interventions with and for young adults living with diabetes and efforts to create new products for our ageing demographic.

Today’s report on Engaged Research is produced by Campus Engage with the support of the Irish Research Council.  The report provides a stakeholder-informed and action oriented framework for engagement between civic and civil society, industry and professionals in research at higher education institutions; ensuring high quality and impactful research. The report also provides a series of recommendations for higher education institution leaders, research funding organisations, and policy-making bodies to promote excellence in engaged research and to make Ireland the benchmark, the go-to country, for collaboration on international engaged research initiatives

All stakeholders stand to gain from their research in a way where each can share their insights and expertise. It is essential to understand that good quality research can improve the quality of all of our lives – through new ideas, products and processes, expert evaluation, evidence and invention.Prof Don Barry, President, University of Limerick.

In recent years there has been an implicit shift in the emphasis of current EU funding streams from research to research and innovation.

The Irish Research Council, through a number of specific funding actions, strongly promotes engagement as part of the research process. As a result, researchers in our Universities and IoTs are now making more explicit the connections between their research and its capacity to generate new products, processes, services to address societal challenges, and impact issues of public concern.

 “Engaged research, based on proven good practice, is truly a ‘win-win’ for all stakeholders. It is no longer acceptable for research participants to be seen simply as research subjects – participants have much to contribute to shaping the right research questions and methodologies, and assisting in the analysis and interpretation of results.” Eucharia Meehan, Director, Irish Research Council.

 The European Horizon 2020 programme (valued at almost €80 billion) promotes engagement measures and outputs across its priority areas. Science with and for Society seeks to build capacity and develop innovative ways of connecting science to society across all disciplines. Its aim is to allow all societal actors including researchers, citizens, policy makers, business, civic and civil society organisations to work together during the whole research and innovation process in order to better align both the process and its outcomes with the values, needs and expectations of European society.

 “Research is critically important to making compelling cases for change; the challenge for community and voluntary groups is to develop a way of presenting a compelling mix of qualitative and quantitative research that fully reflects the social and economic impact of the work that they do”. Deirdre Garvey, Chief Executive Officer, The Wheel

— Pictured were authors of the report and members of the Campus Engage “Engaged Research” working group Prof Maura Adshead, Limerick University with Sarah Bowman Director of Public Engagement Trinity College Dublin and Kate Morris Campus Engage National Co-Ordinator. Picture Jason Clarke

For more information contact:

Kate Morris, National Coordinator, Campus Engage, kate.morris@iua.ie 01 6764948

Additional Notes:

  • The Campus Engage Engaged Research Working Group consulted widely during the process of writing the report, culminating in a series of workshops with over 320 participants, across the country during September and October 2016. A full list of all participants is available on page 89 of the report.
  • In 2015, the Working Group invited researchers from HEIs to submit case studies from engaged research projects carried out during the previous three years. A total of 85 case studies were received during the course of our consultations, each of which illustrated elements of engaged research activity. The case studies are available from page 67 of the report.
  • Representation from the relevant stakeholders at the report launch included higher education research policy makers, research funding agencies, academic researchers and civic and civil society organisations including National Economic Social Council, Irish Cancer Society, Age & Opportunity, Don Bosco Care, Mental Health Ireland, Association for Criminal Justice Research & Development, Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, Trocaire, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Care Alliance Ireland, Benefacts, Daughters of Charity, Doras Bui, Clann Credo, Third Age, and others.


Examples of Engaged Research projects: 

Grand Societal Challenge: Engaging Citizens in the political process
Political Project Title: Including citizens in discussions over constitutional reform
Lead Institution: UCD School of Politics and International Relations
Project Lead: Professor David Farrell
Civil society organisation/Partners: The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC)

Project Description: This project successfully established the state’s first ever citizen’s forum, to bring citizens into the heart of debates over constitutional reforms to improve how our representative system of democracy operates. The genesis of this project was Ireland’s 2008/2009 financial and economic meltdown and the resulting anger over failings in our political system. A group of political scientists proposed that citizens should be brought into the heart of debates over constitutional reforms to improve how our representative system of democracy operates.  ‘We the Citizens, was established whose year-long activity of work culminated in Ireland’s first national citizens’ assembly in June 2011. The data analysis underlying the assembly was presented to government, which some months later established the Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC).

The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) operated over a 14- month period following deliberate practice. Its 100 members comprised 66 citizens selected by an opinion poll agency, 33 politicians from the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly and an independent chair appointed by the government. The groups were asked to consider a series of key questions including; 1. Whether to reduce the Irish President’s term of office from seven to five years; 2. Whether to reduce the voting age to 17; 3. A review of the Dáil electoral system; 4. Voting rights for the Irish diaspora in presidential elections; 5. Marriage equality;

Impact occurred in a number of ways, of which the most significant included the successful passage of the marriage equality referendum in summer 2015. It is unlikely the referendum would have been called but for the vital role played by the ICC in ‘encouraging’ a socially conservative Taoiseach to call it. It is also generally acknowledged that the ICC ‘took the politics out of the debate’ due to the manner in which representatives of all parties were included in the membership. Furthermore, our analysis of survey data gathered after the referendum vote indicates that knowledge of the ICC was a factor in influencing the Yes vote.

The Citizens Assembly, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, is currently considering the issue of abortion in Ireland and the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment.



Grand Societal Challenge: Protecting our environment
Project Title:      ZECOS (Zero CO2e Emission Certification System)
Lead Institution: University of Limerick
Project Lead: Dr. Bernadette O’Regan
Civil society organisation/Partners: MosArt Environmental Design Agency, Ireland; European Academy of Renewable Energy, UK 

Project Description: This is an EU project involving a group of academic, public and private partners. They are working together to create a model for a certification system designed to assist communities in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and towards the ultimate goal of zero emissions. It aims to quantify financial savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions resulting from communities’ active participation in sustainable development, especially in relation to energy production and consumption, and to create an EU-wide standard and accreditation system for communities engaged in greenhouse gas emission reduction.

The use of more locally produced energy reduces dependence on imports, boosts economic growth, and creates jobs. For the EU to meet its commitments on GHG emission reduction and to reach the goal of transforming Europe into a low carbon competitive economy, it is vital that all communities should plan for GHG emission reductions. Communities are where people live and work, they own or manage the resources, land and built environment where significant progress can be made. Communities can face many barriers and a system that encourages community level actions is necessary. ZECOS aims to break down these barriers through providing guidance and information on technology and management options, on financing, and to encourage citizen involvement and improving social and economic development within communities. From experience gained in developing the system, the project partners advised policy making at local, national and EU levels to support communities in reducing GHG emissions.



Grand Societal Challenge: Food for all
Project Title:      Irish GM Potato Community of Inquiry Project
Lead Institution: Dublin City University
Project Lead: Dr. Padraig Murphy
Funded by: Environmental Protection Agency
Civil society organisation/Partners: Teagasc, Carlow Citizens

Project Description: An EPA-funded project at DCU that ran alongside a major Teagasc project in collaboration with an EC consortium, AMIGA to trial a variety of potato called Desiree which was genetically-modified (GM) to be blight –resistant. The Celsius research group at DCU was awarded funding from the EPA to run a citizens jury in the town of Carlow, near the site of the potato trials. The objective of the jury event, which at the time had the working title #gmpotato Community of Inquiry, was to allow Carlow citizens to have a say on GM potato trials nearby and the introduction of GM food more generally to Ireland, and to input this back to technology policy. There were 6 expert ‘witnesses’ and 10 ‘jurors’. While there was a significant majority of support for GM potato trials, there was also concern for patenting and control of GM technologies in the food sector.



Grand Societal Challenge: Improving the Health and Wellbeing of Young People
Project Title: Development of Interventions for Young Adults Living With Type 1 Diabetes
Lead Institution: NUI Galway
Project Lead: Professor Seán F Dinneen
Funded by: Health Research Board
Civil society organisation/Partners: Galway University Hospital, Jigsaw, Galway and a Young Adult Panel

Project Description: This research study aims to engage young adults living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) through the formation of a service‐user panel who actively contribute to the development of an intervention to improve outcomes for this target population. It is a collaboration between healthcare providers from Galway University Hospitals, researchers from NUI Galway, experts in youth engagement from Jigsaw, Galway and members of our Young Adult Panel. The research team believe that the community‐engagement aspect of their research has made and will continue to make all the difference in achieving their aim to improve the health and wellbeing of young adults living with T1D in Ireland.