As is often the case with long, complex research projects, the initial buzz and fanfare of the project officially starting can then be followed by… not a lot, apparently, looking at it from the outside, as there is a big mountain of planning, paperwork and red tape for the research team to sort out before you can go and do anything outside of the office. The past few months with the Get Real project have been a little like this, with all kinds of work going on to make sure everything is in place that needs to be, before we can go going with recruiting our participants, let alone start gathering data.
But this week we have taken a decisive step along the way. On Tuesday, we met with our collaborators at the three Meeting Centres that will act as our case study sites (Droitwich Spa, Leominster and Powys) – not simply to chat about the project, but to actively consult. Alongside my Association for Dementia Studies colleagues were Dr Michela Tinelli from the London School of Economics (who is collaborating with us on creating the questionnaire element of the study) and people not just involved in the governance of each Meeting Centre, but the day-to-day management also. These are people whom we have worked with often in our wider Meeting Centres work, so it was good to catch up and see familiar faces also.
What we want to do ultimately is to “go in” to each Meeting Centre (albeit virtually, most likely, as things stand) and ask a range of people – staff, attendees, volunteers etc. – for a opinions and input on two things: Whether our proposed questions and topics for qualitative interviews are the right ones, and whether our our questionnaire on what people most value about Meeting Centres (and what they are willing and able to pay) is clear and do-able.
But before we set that up, we thought we had better ask those running the show in each place, if our ideas on how to approach this were right – a “pre-consultation” if you will! It was also a chance to engage with and inform our collaborators a little more regarding this project, which felt timely as we’ve been squirreled away planning for so long since the start of the project (see above).
So on Tuesday we presented them with “consultation packs” including study information, proposed interview questions and a not-quite-there-yet draft questionnaire (apologies to Michela as this was very much a work-in-progress version that we had messed about with since last meeting with her). The decision to do a “pre-consultation” proved a good call, as we had plenty of sobering feedback to consider! Below is a summary of the key points on the consultation packs:
This made us realise that what we carefully plan in our University offices can often look very different to people in practice. While we might ramble on in what we think is an attempt to explain and be clear, our Meeting Centre collaborators quite rightly impressed upon us that less is definitely more in cases like these – every piece of paperwork to fill out can be a bit of a chore for people, so the longer the paperwork the more off-putting it is, and less likely to be engaged with or completed. We needed a ruthless edit – short, snappy and immediate is the order of the day!
With regards to the questionnaire, the same absolutely applies, if not even more so. The questionnaire will be a considerable challenge, as it is something called a Discrete Choice Experiment surveys which has to be done in a certain way, in order to work – there is no way to change the process, rather making it simple and immediate will all have to come down to how it is presented. There is lots of work to do here, but we now have lots of interesting and exciting ideas regarding how we can approach it with the use of pictures, colourful slides and minimal text – there is no reason a questionnaire like this has to be a dry list of tick boxes on a page.
Overall the pre-consultation was valuable in the extreme – while it would be lovely to go into a consultation meeting and be told everything you’ve planned is wonderful and needs nothing changing, that’s not a scenario that you learn anything from. This session did exactly what it was supposed to do – by showing our Meeting Centre friends what we were planning while it was still in formation, we learnt valuable lessons at an early stage, that will continue to inform us going forward: In particular, as long as paperwork is clear, less is more – brevity and punch are key – aim not to take up too much of people’s time… and having likely taken up too much of yours now, dear reader, I’ll leave it there!