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Impact and Engagement

The School of Psychology & Counselling embraces the active pursuit of impact through engaged research designed to transform and enrich the wellbeing of individuals and communities. This is central to The Open University ethos and we continue this legacy by investing in psychological research that serves the common good.

Public engagement

We are proud of our ability to create accessible engagement opportunities with different publics without compromising our academic rigour. Our ongoing legacy of lending our academic expertise to the creation of BBC broadcasts has provided over 50 years of direct public engagement, generating countless opportunities to affect change through activating public discourse and stimulating debate.

The impact of our research groups is demonstrated through OU/BBC co-productions, CPD and interactive and badged short courses. Our research appeal spans audiences from academic peers to sixth-form students, and we continue to seek new ways of reaching every generation through the provision of free learning opportunities on OU platforms like OpenLearn and FutureLearn.

Here are some examples of public engagement in the School:

How to do counselling online: a coronavirus primer

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, members of the Psychology of Health and Wellbeing (PHeW) group produced a CDP course that enabled counselling practitioners to pivot to online working, many for the first time. In the 12 months that followed, Coronavirus: An Online Primer enrolled over 21k users, facilitating essential care when it was most needed.The impact of this vital course was recognised in its shortlisting for a Times Higher Award 2021 in the category of Knowledge Exchange / Transfer Initiative of the year.

Forensic Psychology image

The Forensic Cognition Research Group (FCRG) also boasts an extensive catalogue of public engagement activity including one of The Open University’s most popular free courses, Forensic Psychology.

Prejudice and Pride image

Professor Darren Langdridge of Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP) was academic consultant on the BBC/OU co-production ‘Prejudice and pride: the people’s history of LGBTQ life in Britain’. This BBC4 broadcast featured LGBTQ people from across the UK sharing objects that defined their lives during a transformative period in LGBTQ history.

Research and teaching synergies

Our teaching reach is vast, and we attract a diverse undergraduate and postgraduate student cohort from across the four nations of the UK and internationally. We work with external collaborators and other academics to produce widely used research-led teaching materials, such as online audio-visual material and print textbooks.

Research Impact

Members of the School work closely with users to co-produce knowledge that informs policy and practice in health and wellbeing; policing and forensic practice; and wider social issues such as prejudice and inequalities. Selected examples of impact work in the School include:

Improving road safety: informing the national campaign on the dangers of hands-free phone use when driving.

Are you a distracted driver launch image

Research carried out by a team led by Gemma Briggs into the effects of distracted driving has resulted in various strands of impact, including national road safety campaigns with charities such as BRAKE and BBC features such as this that target social impact. The team created a suite of evidence-based educational materials for first-time offenders and the wider public, such as ‘The Mobile Office Challenge’ an interactive that tests your ability to drive whilst distracted:

This vital research has led to opportunities such as providing expert evidence to the Transport Select Committee that inform policy makers and stakeholders in government and business of the need to reconsider mobile phone legislation.

Impact has been recognised through an O²RB Excellence in Impact Award 2021, and the research continues to have ongoing impact assisting the policing and prevention of mobile phone offences via the creation of resources shared by all UK forces during the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) mobile phone enforcement campaigns.

You can also visit the project website to find out more. The work is also available via ORO: Imagery-inducing distraction leads to cognitive tunnelling and deteriorated driving performance

Briggs, G. F., Hole, G. J. and Land, M. F. (2016). DOI: 1369-8478

The Belfast Mobility Project: Transforming everyday mobility patterns in a divided city

 Alexandra Park, Belfast

In the ESRC-funded Belfast Mobility Project (BMP) John Dixon and collaborators used an innovative mixed-method approach that included the use of GPS tracking technology; walking interviews; and surveys to study socio-spatial relations in the historically divided city of Belfast.

The Belfast Mobility Project has evidenced how, when and why residents’ everyday mobility practices both reproduce and transform systems of segregation. Two forms of impact were produced; firstly, through engagement that took the form of a series of reports and seminars, national and local policy makers changed their understanding of the ‘time-geography’ of sectarian divisions in Belfast.

Further, through knowledge exchange meetings and workshops with local community groups, awareness amongst residents has been raised of the relationship between human mobility and local patterns of segregation and mixing. This awareness has been highlighted in ‘The Belfast Quilt’, a stunning piece of creative collaboration, the result of an engagement project by Dr Heather Richardson, Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing.

Read more here: Parallel lives: Intergroup contact, threat and the segregation of everyday activity spaces. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118, 457-480.

You can also visit the project website for more information.

Health effects of long-term, low-level exposure to organophosphates

In this research, Gini Harrison and colleagues evaluated the potential ill-health effects associated with long-term, low level (LTLL) exposure to organophosphate compounds (OPs). These highly toxic substances are used extensively in agricultural, industrial, transportation, and domestic settings, and the research focused on occupationally exposed groups such as farmers and aircraft pilots.

Findings showed that OP users report physical, neurobehavioral and psychiatric ill health effects, even after only LTLL exposure. This research has raised public and professional awareness of the ill health effects following OP exposure, through a series of publications in national newspapers and professional magazines.

The work has also been presented to government ministers and members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, leading to a call for an independent inquiry and parliamentary debate which remains ongoing. This research was also considered by the Committee on Toxicology, informing their statement on the ill-health effects of organophosphates.

Read more here: Harrison, V. & Mackenzie Ross, S.J. (2016). An emerging concern: Toxic fumes in airplane cabins. Cortex, 74, 297-302.

Infidelity and the challenges of digital relating

Working with infidelity

Infidelity is one of the most common problems brought to relationship therapy and an issue that relationship counsellors typically report low confidence in working effectively with. This difficulty is exacerbated by digital technologies which increase the opportunities for people to have affairs.

To address these challenges in counselling practice, Naomi Moller and Andreas Vossler developed an ESRC-funded knowledge-exchange programme with couple counselling organisations from the ‘Relationships Alliance’ producing an online CPD course for practitioners working with infidelity and a host of external engagement opportunities, including seminars, workshops and a research-based online resource for practitioners.

Moller and Vossler have also engaged with the general public by producing a researched-informed online resource for individuals, couples and those in relationships, as well as the infidelity drama ‘I-SPY’ that explores the issue of online affairs over five episodes.

Read more here: Internet Affairs: Partners’ Perceptions and Experiences of Internet Infidelity. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (Early Access). Vossler, A. & Moller, N. P. (2019).

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