Research impact

Yesterday’s Health and Care Research Wales conference, held at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff (more about that later), was all about closing the gaps between research, policy and practice.

There were some excellent keynote speakers. Jenny Kitzinger spoke of her research involving families of people who are minimally conscious, sharing her experiences of working with policymakers to influence at a national level. Jenny argued that impact is helped when research (1) has strong foundations, (2) is collaborative, and (3) is communicated through diverse outputs. ‘Diverse outputs’ means doing a whole lot more than simply writing journal articles (particularly those which end up behind publisher paywalls). For a direct example of how Jenny’s work influences, follow this link for a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology POSTnote which cites a number of her and her collaborators’ publications.

André Tomlin, aka The Mental Elf, drew on his work with the National Elf Service to make the case for getting evidence into practice. This means communicating research findings in ways which are both understandable and accessible to practitioners. This, of course, is exactly what the Mental Elf Service does, using blog posts and other social media to share key research messages.

Steve Jones is a biologist known to many for his efforts to improve the public understanding of science. In his afternoon address he gave a fascinating account of working with government and the BBC. I liked his upbeat take on the past and present strength of UK science, but also noted his examples of scientific advice being flatly ignored or misused.

The day’s final keynote speaker was Malcolm Mason, whose talk emphasised the time it can take to generate research findings which have the potential to change care and treatment. Malcolm is an oncologist, specialising in prostate cancer, and his message for researchers wanting to make a difference is that they must ask questions which are important and not only interesting.

Worth mentioning, too, are yesterday’s workshops. Three were on offer, from which delegates had the chance to participate in two. As I have some experience in public involvement in research I elected to join the ‘impact on practice’ and ‘impact on policy’ options.

I enjoyed the day, and along the way also appreciated the chance to catch up with colleagues. Overwhelmingly, though, I am left thinking that the work of getting research into policy, services and everyday practice is something which needs to be planned for, and resourced. I also think most researchers (myself included) have some learning to do on this front, and perhaps need to develop some new skills and to make some new friends. In the past I’ve come across the Economic and Social Research Council’s impact toolkit, and yesterday was alerted to the existence of a study titled, A systematic review of barriers to, and facilitators of, the use of evidence by policymakers. Worth a read, perhaps.

Anyway…

I’ve now been to the SWALEC stadium five or six times for meetings, conferences and the like. I’ve never been there, though, to watch sport: the stadium being the home of Glamorgan Cricket. Perhaps I should rectify this at some point, as the idea of watching a match which might last days, involve beer (for spectators, if not players) and then end in a draw rather appeals.

 

 

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