Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Knowledge exchange

Posted by Jenni Remnant

Last week I went to a residential in Birmingham run by the London School of Economics. The theme for discussion and workshops was ‘Knowledge Exchange (KE) and Impact’, and had a focus based in social care and social work.

In terms of public health, impact is arguably a necessity and not something to tap on a grant proposal as an add-on. I would suggest that there is no point to public health research if the health of the public is not impacted upon (positively).

So as part of this residential we discussed stakeholder focus groups, partner organisations and dissemination. We discussed REF, academic and policy impact.

We discussed all the snazzy ways to tart up our findings and pitch them to people in an accessible way. These included videos, infographics, twitter and blogs amongst other things. We also learnt how to engage with journalists and the press.

And then on the last day, we learnt about the #JusticeForLB campaign – an incredible shout of anger that grew and was cultivated through Twitter. The campaign, started by the Mother of a young dude called Connor Sparrowhawk, has gained amazing momentum – and for me, personally, is many of the things KE and impact should be.

For a start – it was born from a real issue, as identified by people involved in the real issue.

Connor Sparrowhawk was in a specialist unit called Slade House, an NHS assessment and treatment unit in Oxfordshire. He had autism and epilepsy. Connor was in the unit for 107 days before he died by drowning in one of the baths. The cause of death was initially recorded as ‘natural causes’.

Secondly – the real issue was focused within and around the people it directly affected, and may directly affect in the future. The academics that did become involved in this became involved because it was clear something needed to change, and they cared.

Thirdly – it had, and has, impact: immediate tangible impact; demand from the Sparrowhawk family and support from the campaign meant that the death was subsequently found to be preventable, the unit has been closed down and there has been an inquest.

Finally – this campaign reached out; there were blogs, activities, sponsorships and endless tweeting.

Totally amazing and inspiring.

This might seem really far removed from what we do as researchers, but there is a pattern there that is not so different from what we do;

1) Identify an issue that needs further scrutiny
2) Scrutinise it.
3) Work out what it means, or what the implications are, and then
4) Work out recommendations to go forward with

The reason the #JusticeForLB campaign did such a spectacular job in doing this is in part, I think, due to the lack of any academic-type goals and limitations placed around it. REF was unimportant; impact ratings, finding a niche and career progression were not foregrounded. There was no traditional model to adhere to.

I’m aware that this story has a strong narrative, with irrefutable social justice at the heart of it that may capture interest in a way that some public health doesn’t – but it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) hurt to occasionally think outside the box with research. Even if that box is in another box.

It would be cool to see more research instigated by, committed to and partnered with the people affected by whatever the issue it is. It seems a bit counterproductive to take an issue, decontextualize it through research, and then struggle to communicate the findings back to the ‘stakeholders’ at a later date. Especially if we are then going to lament how people haven’t enacted the lifestyle/policy/ [insert other] change advised in the research.

As useless as ever, I don’t really know how to implement changes that involve remodelling the academic research model – but the residential was definitely an excellent place to broaden the horizon.

I do hope to organise an unconference in the not so distant future though, as a start…so watch this space I guess!

Definitely check #JusticeForLB out on twitter if you get the chance, and spend just over 4 minutes looking at their animation – gifted by an illustrator as part of the campaign – it’s exquisite.

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