Public Engagement

Vizzata: Online engagement


Dr Konstantina (Dina) Vasileiou (Research Associate, Department of Psychology) received £1460 to trial usage of an online engagement platform, Vizzata, to gather feedback from carers and voluntary sector professionals in relation to her 'loneliness in carers' research.


Loneliness is one of the most significant challenges faced by Western societies in the 21st century. Experiences of loneliness are complex and usually involve feelings of anxiety, lack of connectedness and community, dissatisfaction, depression and pessimism. A large body of scientific work has focused on chronic forms of loneliness. However, little attention has been paid to the experience of more transient episodes of loneliness associated with a life transition or change and specific work circumstances, such as remote and lone working. It is expected that these episodes of loneliness will become more common as people become more mobile and work-life patterns become less stable.

Episodes of loneliness are also likely for the increasing numbers of people who find themselves providing care to a loved one. Carers can suffer from loneliness and feelings of isolation through lack of social interaction and support. The shifting of healthcare services to the home alongside the rising trajectory of chronic diseases mean that increasingly people can find themselves taking on a caring role for family members or friends. In the UK there are currently 6.5 million carers with numbers expected to rise.

I am more motivated to consider, reflect upon, and effectively activate those skills that are required to ‘translate’ and effectively communicate research work to the publics and genuinely engage with their thinking on it.

Dr Dina Vasileiou

The Loneliness in the Digital Age (LiDA) research project aims to understand experiences of loneliness in a series of case communities who are at risk of loneliness and to explore the potential for creative digital interventions to help manage those experiences. Dina and Professor Julie Barnett  ran this public engagement project, which they called Sharing with You, with carers and professionals from the voluntary sector after the completion of  the initial qualitative phase of the LiDA programme.

Sharing with You firstly sought to communicate and develop a dialogue around research findings relating to experiences of loneliness and social isolation in informal carers. The second aim of the project was to evaluate the online platform, Vizzata, that was used for purposes of public engagement and engaged research. Vizzata allows the researcher to present materials in various formats (e.g. text, image, video) and enables participants to express their questions and thoughts on the materials they are presented with. In this way, a dialogue between the researcher and the participants is developed.

Sharing research and exploring personal experiences

Dina used Vizzata to engage with seven informal carers (two men caring for their wives and five women: three caring for a parent; one caring for her partner and one for her two children with health problems) and seven representatives from the voluntary sector (two people from Age UK; two people from the BANES Carers’ Centre; one person from the Independent Age; one person from the Campaign to End Loneliness; and one person from the Royal Voluntary Service).

There were two rounds of online activity that participants were invited to complete with each taking 20-30 minutes. In the first, the researchers presented five core findings as well as two relevant videos and participants expressed comments and thoughts relating to their own experiences and views. The researchers then gathered the input and analysed it in relation to each participant and in relation to each research finding. The researchers then sent an individual message to each participant summarising their input and how this related to others’ whilst also answering any questions that might have been asked by participants. Three ‘dilemmas’ were identified from the analysis that were then put to the participants in the second round for their comments.

Listening to carers to combat loneliness

Evaluation questions included in this project revealed that participants felt a number of benefits out of their participation. The carers liked the opportunity to express themselves and to reflect on their situation and challenges and to feel they were listened to by the researchers. They also highly valued being able to see how common or different the views and experiences of other people were from their own.

The representatives from the voluntary sector felt that they gained a better understanding of the challenges that carers face, or confirmed their prior knowledge. The project also encouraged them to reflect on current practices in their organisations and how these could change or improve to more effectively address challenges faced by carers.      

Dina felt that Vizzata worked well both from a researcher’s and a participant’s point of view and that it could be used for a variety of research and engagement projects. The results enriched her earlier findings, highlighting nuances and complexities that were not previously apparent. The participants also reported that Vizzata was easy to use and the layout was clear and worked well on tablets as well as computer screens. They felt that it being online meant they could take as much time as they wished to think about the material and also meant they could do it at a time that suited them instead of having to travel to a meeting. They also suggested some feature improvements, such as an option to save progress so far so that they could come back later, as well as a spellchecker, a progress bar, and a function that would allow them to comment on particular points in the text.