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I’m a Health Service Researcher, get me out of here!

June 14, 2013
Martin Marshall Martin Marshall is Lead for Improvement Science London and Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL.

Science hasn’t always been as fashionable as it is today. It used to be seen as something that only pointy-headed weird people did, a bit scary to everyone else. But then along came Susan Greenfield and Brian Cox, science was popularised and stars were born. Why should actors and football players have a monopoly on fame? Science can be edgy and fun, a subject that school children look forward to with excitement rather than with dread.

So I wasn’t completely surprised to hear about the on-line resource I’m a scientist, get me out of here! http://imascientist.org.uk/ . The model will be familiar to fans of reality TV. School children go on-line during their science lesson and get to ask a panel of five real-life scientists whatever important questions they have on their minds. Like why does food go mouldy? Or can I clone my mum? Or why do the hairs on my arms stand up when I’m scared? Students submit questions which the scientists try to answer by the next day. They then have live online Facebook style chats, ask questions, learn more about what it is like to be a scientist, and let the scientists know their opinions. Questions and discussions take place over a two week period and then the voting starts. One scientist a day is evicted, perhaps because they provided the least convincing answers, or were just plain boring. After 5 days, and 5 harrowing (for the scientists) rounds, the last scientist standing wins £500 to spend on a science communication project.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the answer to the ‘Dissemination’ section on a research grant application form said ‘We are going to play I’m a Health Service Researcher, get me out of here! with a group of managers and clinicians from our local hospital and general practices’. It would certainly make a change from ‘We will publish our findings in a highly ranked peer-reviewed scientific journal’. I can just imagine questions like how do we get our clinicians to follow guidelines? Or what are the implications of merging two hospitals? Or what impact do financial incentive have on professional motivation? The answers would be revealing and, like the school children, I doubt if your average manager would allow a Health Service Researcher to get away with answers that weren’t convincing or useful.

So there’s an idea for promoting evidence-informed service improvement. Anyone want to try it?

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