Why The Bridge at DECIPHer?


By Dr. Tammy Boyce

Despite the relevance of their findings to wider society, much academic research languishes in vast voids (otherwise known as journals) – unread and unappreciated. You can spend two years researching and writing the most interesting paper but if only your mother and partner read it, where is the value? Creating and – importantly – using bridges increases the value / impact of research. In the last five years DECIPHer has created and used these bridges when planning and carrying out research.

Creating bridges: PHIRN

DECIPHer’s research concentrates on public health interventions and policies that impact health, wellbeing and health inequalities. One method DECIPHer uses to become aware of the topics that are relevant to policy-makers is through PHIRN, the Public Health Improvement Research Network. Through PHIRN, DECIPHer is able to provide evidence-based research that focuses on the real problems of real people.

DECIPHer and the Welsh Assembly Government work in partnership to run PHIRN. PHIRN brings together academics, policy makers and practitioners in Wales to discuss and influence public health policy and research. DECIPHer and PHIRN have worked with a range of stakeholders outside public health to expand the impact of their research, working with:

  • Schools;
  •  Community workers;
  • NHS staff;
  • The police;
  • Home Office;
  • Department of Health.

A future blog will explore PHIRN’s work in more detail.

Using bridges at DECIPHer – Free Breakfasts

From its start, DECIPHer worked closely with commissioners and users of research to ensure its research is both practical and useful. The Free Breakfast initiative is a good example of how DECIPHer used its bridges to develop policy-relevant and rigorous research. The issue of providing free breakfasts has perplexed current and previous UK and international governments – should schools provide breakfasts and if they do, what potential impacts should be measured? Working with the Welsh Assembly Government, DECIPHer developed and carried out research in 111 Welsh primary schools.

In this ‘real world’ experiment, DECIPHer led a randomised control trial, where half of the
schools had the intervention (Free Breakfasts) and half did not (control group). Half of the trials were held in ‘Communities First’ areas in Wales – areas of high deprivation.

The first round of findings showed:

  • Students consumed more healthy food at breakfast;
  • Students had more positive attitudes towards eating breakfast.

Results from the project continue to be analysed and published. The team is currently analysing the potential of Free Breakfasts to reduce health inequalities.

Bridges between academics and practitioners

As important as building bridges between academics and policy-makers is building bridges between academics and practitioners. In each of DECIPHer’s centres in Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea there are many staff members who either work jointly for public health (or social services or charities) and DECIPHer or who have moved from practice to work in academia full-time.

At DECIPHer engagement with practitioners takes a range of forms:

  • In the South West of England, DECIPHer organises meetings between academics and the public health community in Bristol – including directors of public health and consultants. Dr. Ruth Kipping, who works for both the NHS and DECIPHer, says these meetings “have made relationships stronger”.

Bridges between the public and academics

Another bridge that DECIPHer created is between its research subjects and those carrying out the research. These bridges involving children, young people, their carers and parents and seek to improve:

  • The way research strategies are planned;
  • The research process itself.

An Involving Young People Research Officer supports and organises the young people’s advisory group ALPHA.

In the last five years DECIPHer has created many bridges with policy-makers and practitioners and continues to do so in order to find new opportunities and areas of research. If research is constantly created, so too are the bridges.

Dr. Tammy Boyce (@TamBoyce) works with DECIPHer as a Knowledge Exchange consultant.

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