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Public Engagement

The Centre’s public engagement programme is comprised of three closely related and interconnected sets of activities. Through consultation we ensure that the research conducted by the Centre is informed by public views, concerns, and perspectives. Through collaboration, we encourage public involvement in our research. Through informational activities we aim to inspire publics to engage in discussion of these important ethical issues. An important theme throughout this work is the use of different and innovative approaches to promoting and supporting discussion and debate about these important ethical issues with our key audiences. The Centre’s Public Engagement programme places an emphasis on creating thought-provoking activities that provide extensive opportunities for audiences to reflect and discuss issues with the researchers involved.

In its engagement activities, the Centre works in close collaboration with the University of Oxford’s public engagement with research programmes, with the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), with the Wellcome Trust’s in-house Public Engagement and International Engagement teams.

Developments in neuroscience, genomics, and data science, together with rapidly increasing global connectedness call for a radical rethinking of the norms underpinning the ethics of biomedical science and technological innovation. The Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities complements its ethics and humanities research activities with an integrated programme of public engagement to engage a broad section of society in these conversations.

The development of effective solutions to the problems presented by developments in these new areas of science and technology requires the bringing to bear of multiple perspectives and experiences. It is vital for such deliberation to be inclusive and diverse if it is to be capable of supporting models of good practice capable of commanding well-founded public trust and confidence. For these reasons, whilst engaging with many different audiences, the Centre pays particular attention to the engagement of groups that tend to be seen as difficult to reach and tend not to be included in engagement with the ethical issues arising in scientific developments.

Read our Public Engagement Strategy to find out more about Public Engagement at the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities.

Visit our online photographic exhibition 'Indoors: experiences of older people during lockdown'.


'Beyond the Body: a portrait of autopsy'

Beyond the Body: a portrait of autopsy’ is an art exhibition inspired by narratives of people involved in post-mortem procedures, depicting ethical dilemmas presented by the practice of examining the body across different cultures. Recognised as ‘learning from the dead’, autopsy has been of significant importance to medicine and science, but often a painful concern of the living.

Artist Anna Suwalowska at the ‘Diagnosing Loss’ exhibition, alongside one of her paintingsArtist Anna Suwalowska at the ‘Diagnosing Loss’ exhibition, alongside one of her paintings

The exhibition is a collaborative project between Dr Halina Suwalowska (Ethox Centre, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford) and artist Anna Suwalowska (Royal College of Art). The artwork inspired by Halina’s research, interprets the difficult questions posed and brings new perspectives on autopsy.

Here art explores a range of viewpoints; A pathologist asking if the rights of the living to know the cause of death supersede the rights of the deceased to keep their secrets; A Buddhist priest discussing five elements determining stages of death, but also the universe; A scientist introducing less invasive autopsy in children to minimise body disfigurement, describing difficult conversations with grieving parents, amongst others…

In April 2022 ‘Beyond the Body’ was shown at Michaelis School of Fine at the University of Cape Town as part of the ‘Diagnosing Loss’ exhibition, curated by Dr Nina Liebenberg (The Centre for Curating the Archive, University of Cape Town).

Diagnosing Loss: A Conversation

Evaluation reports

The Time Machine

In 2020, we collaborated with Creation Theatre, Oxfordshire’s largest producing theatre company, on a contemporary re-imagining of HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’. In a unique theatrical experience, small audience groups were led by their own time traveller through the labyrinthine of the London Library. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, this production was adapted for online audiences, and was one of the first theatrical performances to be live-streamed via Zoom. Audience members were invited to consider and question ethical dilemmas presented by advances in medical technologies, surveillance and global connectedness, through visiting various future worlds.

Evaluation of this project was undertaken on our behalf by the Science Communication Unit at the University of West England.

Read the evaluation report (pdf, 815 KB).

Debating Data: A Citizens' Jury

Do you know how your medical data is being used and why? Are you happy for your data to be used in research? Are your cells as important to you as an image of your brain, for example? Should these different types of data be used differently? In February 2020, we held a Citizens' Jury event with 20 public participants at the Oxford Town Hall. Our evaluation report gives insight on the participants' perspectives on whether different types of medical data (genomics, imaging, pathology slides) should be used and shared differently within healthcare or research.

Read the report (pdf, 366 KB)