Ready, steady, research!
The Common Health Assets project started on 1st September 2021. Like most research projects there followed lengthy but important processes to set up administrative systems, databases, and get ethical approval, alongside the somewhat more enjoyable tasks of recruiting (amazing) staff and getting to know new project partners.
During the last two weeks in particular the study design and methods that we have developed (across our multi-disciplinary, multi-site and multi-method project team) have been tested out as our researchers begin working closely with communities across the UK. We have been blown away by the response so far, our community organisation partners are helping us to get stuck into the nitty gritty of evaluating impacts and what matters for health and wellbeing for individuals and communities.
Last week we had our first in-person research team meeting. Here we are outside the Govan Mbeki health building at GCU. As one of many projects that got off the ground whilst COVID-related restrictions were in place, we worked remotely with our team for more than two years during the development and set of of our research. You might not be able to tell from the photograph but some are much taller than their webcams would suggest! Although it has already been a great working experience in spite of the distance, it was something else to meet in person and to work together around tables.
We began our meeting with a welcome from Prof Pamela Gillies, Vice Chancellor and Principal of GCU, who has a personal research interest in communities and health inequalities. The first session was about building on knowledge and a reminder of the history of research that represents our starting point(s) – Mike Kelly, Antony Morgan, Cam Donaldson and Jen McLean helped to map out the journey thus far in relation to public health, economic evaluation and methods and community assets and health. Then after a whistle-stop tour of realism and realist evaluation by Sam Porter, we got to work in groups on candidate initial programme theories – they don’t look like programme theories yet as you can see from some rough examples of thinking on the day below, they are still quite messy – but such is research!
To start day two, Mohasin Ahmed presented about public engagement through our lived experience panel – and got us moving, with some ice-breaker exercises that will be also be used on the panel. This gave the team a flavour of what the panel would be doing throughout project, in many different aspects of the research process as we seek to co-produce new knowledge.
Sarkis Manoukian and Helen Mason then led a session on questionnaire design which stimulated great discussion. We reflected on the different outcomes (and contexts) that we might expect from participants who come new to community organisations, compared with the health and wellbeing impacts over time as relationships develop and activities evolve. That discussion led to a research protocol amendment – coproduction in action! Two days of rich conversations and a renewed appreciation of the skills and expertise in the team were wonderfully exhausting.
The next steps include starting the recruitment phase of our questionnaire, continuing with stakeholder interviews, running the remaining Photovoice sessions, and constantly refining our programme theories along the way. We will provide another update as each of these packages progresses!