Whose knowledge is it anyway?

Parallel Session

What knowledge should we use to inform change? Decision makers need to weigh up evidence from academia, lobbying from special interest groups or businesses, competing budgets and public opinion. This panel will explore how knowledge from these different sources should be weighed and what the role of public engagement is in facilitating that conversation.

The session will unpack what knowledge is and will note that however good knowledge is, it is almost always limited in some way. The session will explore how barriers between silos of knowledge can be broken down, processes for encouraging a holistic view of issues and methods for gaining consensus about how to combine the different forms of knowledge to make good policy decisions. It will also explore the downside of such processes. Does such exploration prevent change from happening whilst we try to come to consensus? What about situations where consensus is likely to remain elusive?

You will hear from each of our panel members about projects they have been involved with that led to change, and the different approaches to gathering evidence in those projects. The panel will also explore how others can learn from their experiences:

Wellcome supports research as well as public engagement with that research. Inevitably projects we support identify change that needs to happen. We are keen to explore how public engagement can best complement research evidence in delivering change.

Parenting Science Gang, are generating new knowledge in areas where there are research gaps. We’ve found that parents have questions that matter to them, which science hasn’t considered. Scientists and other experts can have their own blindspots. The processes of scientific research and funding introduce more. Should we be allowing more voices at the table, and acknowledging the kind of expertise that comes from living something (e.g. as patients, as parents, or as consumers)? What are the dangers (if any) of doing that?

Sense about Science’s ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign has provided a platform where people are encouraged and given the tools to question the validity of ‘knowledge’ or assertions made in the public realm.  How to ask questions is an approach that we are increasingly looking at – and the role of experts not so much to bring their bags of evidence to the table as to equip people to set the question in a way that is most likely to generate or uncover useful evidence.

Lucy Duggan will be exploring the importance of experiential knowledge in challenging societal problems and the role that arts and culture has to play in revealing that knowledge. She will also explore the rise of passive encounters with knowledge and the risk this poses to the spirit of intellectual curiosity and criticism.

Jennie Gamlin will talk about her use of ethnography in relation to decision making and her role as an expert as agent for communities, giving voices in decision making processes to the marginalised. She will explore bottom up rather than top down approaches to making change.


  • Dr Tom Ziessen, Engaging Science Manager, Wellcome Trust
  • Sophia Collins, Director, Parenting Science Gang
  • Tracey Brown, Director, Sense about Science
  • Lucy Duggan, Managing Director, Lightbox
  • Dr Jennie Gamlin, Senior Research Fellow – Wellcome Trust, Institute for Global Health, UCL

 This session is being delivered by Knowledge Quarter partner Wellcome Trust.

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