Andrew McWilliams – Rising Star in Public Engagement 2019

The Rising Star Award recognised Dr Andrew McWilliams who helped to develop the MetaLab’s MetacogMission project through developing a public facing app.

An image of people doing a presentationHe led a team of researchers to host an interactive stall at the Tate Modern’s Self-Impressions event in March 2018 which provided important road-testing and improvement opportunities for the app

Dr Andy McWilliams won 2019’s Rising Star Award in recognition of his work on the MetacogMission app for METAlab. Perhaps engaging publicly and talking to audiences is something that comes naturally to Andy, who is a specialist registrar in child and adolescent psychiatry by training, but has always been able to balance research and his clinical practice. Before joining the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, he balanced 25% research and 75% clinical. Since joining the centre, he maintains his clinical work and works at the Tourretz Institute.

Dr Andy MaWilliams route to the FIL was an unusual one; he explains that he first met Steve Fleming, of the MetaLab, at the London Psychiatric Conference where he “bounded up to him after a talk to ask a question”. Through staying in touch over a shared interest in research, Andy then eventually came to work on the Mental Health and Justice project at the Centre in 2016.

The research is focussed around the Mental Capacity Act; involving neuroscientists, philosophers, lawyers, service users and social scientists to ensure that publics are protected in situations where they can be vulnerable, whilst respecting their agency and autonomy. Andy’s research looks at testing for cognitive capacity in financially-related decisions, and sits in metacognition within the 6-stranded project (other strands are: supporting legal capacity, community participation, advance directives, insight, and contested assessment.)

Andy is interested in technology solutions to gamify tasks and has used this in his research and his public engagement. His PE project involved developing the MetacogMission app with DamnFine, which he then took for road-testing at Tate Self Impressions and Latitude Festival 2018. The public engagement activity has helped to solidify the app, which is now available in beta form, and has been used for the first time in one of Andy’s actual studies, just a year after Public Engagement road testing took place! “You’ve caught me at an exciting time,” says Andy, who has been using the app-based test to explore mental capacity in individuals with functional cognitive impairment.

Andy’s public engagement work has been driven by his belief that public engagement is especially important in psychological research and capacity assessment, as the area has strong social outcomes. In addition, important feedback, especially around testing protocols, can be achieved through engaging with public audiences.

Awarded March 2019