Hello! My name is Andrea Rodriguez. My background is social psychology, and I am a Lecturer in Dental Public Health at the School of Dentistry.
My experience with public engagement started in Brazil when I worked in social projects in favelas in Rio de Janeiro as a third sector practitioner. My understanding of the importance of public engagement to change realities came from this unique experience. The process of working directly with people affected by extreme poverty changed me, and formed my professional identity. In this project I was interacting with young people with multiple health and social care issues, that were not attending school, had no job, or family relationship. I quickly realised I needed to invest a lot of my time to observe them, listen to them, being around and learn from them the best ways to get them involved.
After I moved to Scotland to work at the University of Dundee, it was clear that the University’s ethos was that public engagement is essential and it always will be, right across the University.
In 2015 I started my research post, under the supervision of Prof Ruth Freeman, to study those experiencing homelessness. I did not have much knowledge on the reality of these groups in Scotland and more than ever, I knew I had to engage as much as possible with people outside of higher education. Using inclusive, creative, and participatory methodologies was my way of doing this.
I am now the academic lead for public engagement in my School and I am involved in many different types of public engagement activities. I am passionate about public engagement and love to learn from collective strategies to engage with people with different backgrounds, especially those experiencing multiple social exclusions; practitioners from health and social care sectors; and policy makers. I believe the ability to engage with different audiences during research and teaching is essential if we want to respond to the wider issues faced by society.
In 2021, I received the Stephen Fry Award for public engagement for the work with young people in Scotland and Brazil and so I decided to make a comic entitled ‘Oral Health and Public Engagement’. The content was co-designed with students and researchers from the Dental School, key partners from NHS boards, the Third Sector, and the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies, based here at the University of Dundee. I am really pleased with the result! This comic is designed to provide insights on ways to engage with different stakeholders and impact people’s lives. It aims to strengthen the culture of public engagement across academic disciplines.
This comic explores the challenges and the joy experienced by our team when engaging the public with our work. To begin the co-design of this comic we had several collective and individual meetings when participants were asked to reflect on the follow questions:
• Which group do you engage with?
• What are the enablers and barriers to engage with this group?
• What are your key skills related to public engagement? Can you share three key attitudes or principles that base your engagement?
• What tips do you give for other practitioners to engage with different audiences?
• What do you do to overcome the challenges in engaging with them?
• Despite all the challenges, why is public engagement important and worth doing?
The script for the comic was created based on these responses and sought to address three themes:
1. the meaning of public engagement;
2. the skills required for this type of work;
3. the importance of public engagement.
We hope you enjoy reading these stories of engagement. We hope this comic can encourage more students, staff and practitioners from different fields to strengthen their public engagement values and practices.
Dr. Andrea Rodriguez
Lecturer in Dental Public Health and Public Engagement School Lead
School of Dentistry, University of Dundee