Monday, 25 June 2012

How can I help you help me?

Posted by Dorothy Newbury-Birch

I’ve never failed to get practitioners on board for a research project.

I’m not bragging (oh okay I am a bit). Some of the projects have been really difficult environments to do research: Accident and Emergency Departments, prisons, probation, magistrates courts, crown courts, youth offending teams, police stations, schools, GP surgeries. But I see people struggling with engaging practitioners and I wonder why. It’s by no means easy – actually getting someone to answer the phone or respond to your email can be really difficult but there are ways around that. Don’t believe what people say about it being more difficult elsewhere in England either – we’re often told that its much harder in London to engage but I don't agree: it is harder to get around London for meetings, but not harder to engage. I’ve done it – I know!

So what are my tips for success in engaging practitioners?

1. Send an email followed up by a telephone call about a week later where you tell them you’re following up on your email will probably get you somewhere. If you are a Dr. or working with a Dr. saying this helps.

2. Use current contacts to help you – however remember if you say that ‘Dorothy’ suggested I call you that you are using my reputation, so use it wisely.

3. When arranging to meet, ask what suits them best. Making it clear that you will come to them,  out of hours if necessary, usually works.

4. NEVER say you want to arrange a meeting (even though you do). Always say something like, ‘have you got time for a coffee and a chat about some research I’m working on which I think you would be really interested in’.

5. When you do meet (for a coffee!) find out very quickly if they are the right person to talk to about the research – they may be the PI but it may be someone else that you will be liaising with. Get the first person to introduce you to the next person.

6. Don’t go the meeting (coffee) with a huge list of things you need them to do. Tell them about the research and go through the main things – the list should come later (although you should never have too long a list).

7. When you get to meet the team (there is usually a team) my years of research experience tell me that ONLY providing blueberry muffins works. For some reason, chocolate ones don’t work the same.

8. Offer solutions to problems. In one trial I worked on with probation where I wanted them to fax me something each day, they said that they didn’t have time. So I offered to set the fax up to send me the list at the same time that they HAD to send it to someone else.

9. Listen to their solutions. They know their systems much better than you.

10. Keep them updated with what is going on throughout the research. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT not just for your research project, but for others that may come after.

11. Ok, I know I have 11 tips and 10 sounds better but this one is important. Involve the people you’re working with in the design, carrying out and the dissemination of the work (if they want to) it really makes for much better research.

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