Deepening Public Engagement with Chronic Pain Research: an interdisciplinary approach combining art, science and communities
Chronic pain affects 20% of adults globally, about 1.5 billion people, with 10% newly diagnosed each year . Moreover, with the aging of the population, the prevalence of chronic pain is only expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades . It has been described as a wicked problem (Rittel, 1973) that disrupts one’s life on multiple levels: emotional, social and financial. Chronic pain is commonly addressed via multidisciplinary treatment strategies in outpatient settings, but surgery to address pain is not uncommon (May, 2018). Though research over the last twenty years has significantly increased understanding of the physiological mechanisms and psychosocial impact of chronic pain, pain researchers have argued that there is a need for more knowledge translation from experts to those suffering from chronic pain with the goal of reducing the burden of chronic pain for sufferers, their families and the community (Henry, 2008).
Cultivating public engagement in medical and health science, such as chronic pain, is not simply a matter of educating and presenting factual data to citizens in the top-down format of what was once termed the public understanding of science. The model of public engagement “describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit”. Interdisciplinary art-science teams and research centers in UK [7,9] and Canada  have noted the important role that science-art collaborations can play in raising and giving form to questions, especially when art and design teams work with scientists and communities to find out what communities know, want to know and are concerned about in relation to a specific topic . Equally, art science partnerships focusing on chronic pain have been shown to help articulate ambiguity and uncertainty, to reveal that, for example, the benefits and downsides to many health-science innovations are contingent, situated and personal. 
However, there has been no similar translational work undertaken to date in the USA. Without an understanding of more diverse forms of public engagement, we fail to address the need for more translational research with and for diverse and specific publics who are impacted by chronic pain. To remedy this gap, this pilot study will bring together artists, designers, chronic pain researchers and people suffering from chronic pain to collaboratively co-design translational projects.
Methods and goals. Through meetings and co-design sessions with people that suffer from chronic pain, those that treat them and artists and designers, we will chart histories of living with, studying and treating chronic pain. This project asks: 1) How is chronic pain understood by sufferers and their families, and by medical researchers and clinicians? 2) How can we better engage publics with chronic pain research and treatment? 3) What jointly-authored artworks and designed objects can we create to engage communities with chronic pain research?
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Presented at the Leonardo Education and Art Forum (LEAF) Rendezvous Event
Presented at the College Arts Association Annual National Conference in Chicago
$100,000 grant from the University of Michigan Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research
Engaging Art, Science and Empathy (EASE): An interdisciplinary art and science approach to ameliorating the gendered experience and treatment of chronic pain
$9,600 from Social Science, Art, and Humanities Innovations for Health Award, University of Michigan