Health Policy Series: Transformative Public Engagement: Pitfalls, Possibilities and Promise – keynote by Dr. Jamila Michener

On September 22, 2022, the Public Engagement in Health Policy project team at McMaster University hosted a one-day conference, Reimagining public engagement in a changing world. Community members, engagement practitioners, researchers, and policymakers gathered virtually and in person to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of public engagement and to envision a way forward. Attendees explored questions such as, what does it mean to engage with communities ethically? How can researchers use new approaches to engagement to tackle contemporary health policy issues with communities? And what are the roots of mistrust between communities and researchers/policymakers? 

The day opened with Dr. Jamila Michener, Associate Professor of Government and Public Policy at Cornell University. In her keynote presentation, she shared enriching insights on public engagement at the intersections of power, poverty, public policy and racism. Transformative and impactful public engagement continues to be hindered by a range of problems from insufficient resources to structural disincentives. Research must not only seek to avoid tokenism, to meaningfully create space for people to participate; it must also be reflexive. Researchers have a critical role in radically transforming engagement by understanding how their positionality affects their work. They should begin their work by asking: who am I, what are my values, what is my position and role? This reflexivity is essential as it shapes the very research questions we ask and our rationale for engaging with communities. It is from this intersectional lens that Dr. Michener proposed the values of equity, dignity, and democracy as anchors for ethical public engagement. 

– Excerpt from a blog post written by Joanna Massie, Roma Dhamanaskar, and Rana Saleh 


This series is supported by the Public Engagement in Health Policy project, which promotes research, critical reflection and dialogue about engagement issues that have a health and health policy focus. Learn more about this Future of Canada project at

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