Sunday, 17 April 2016

Expert Elicitation: Farming Today meet Mental Health Care

It seems to me that inspiration and knowledge can be found anywhere. Driving to work I like to listen to Radio 4’s Farming Today. This wonderful 15 minute programme has been running every weekday since 1960. Back then it was billed as being 'a review of current affairs in agriculture at home and abroad'. It is currently aired at 05.45 every weekday and still explores issues closely related to the countryside and agriculture, and always focuses on how these issues might be seen from the framers point of view. In the UK, farmers look after 75% of the countryside land.

The programme is not afraid of addressing controversial issues such a badger culling; GM food production; animal welfare issues; agri-economics; and new technology. It mixes such subjects with features that bring to life the human and emotional side of contemporary farming, including issues such handing the farm over from parent to child; introducing children to farming (new born lambs and calf feeding); as well as often exploring new ideas such as how farmers can provide mental health care to people experiencing mental health and wellbeing issues.

The programme has 4 current presenters, all women, and all of them are warm, welcoming and clearly have great abilities in the art of being able to communicate on radio. The current Editor is Dimitri Houtart. He is the BBC’s rural affairs champion and works across the BBC’s entire programme portfolio. He is absolutely passionate about promoting disability rights and has mentored many of his colleagues who live with a disability.  He is also a visiting lecturer at a number of universities, and he regularly 're-tweets' and 'likes' many of my Farming Today inspired tweets. Last week was no exception.

I had a fleeting moment of fame when one of my tweets was quoted on last Wednesdays Farming Today. Whilst I was excited, it was more like 15 seconds of fame rather than the Andy Warhol’s ubiquitous notion that in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. Still it was a start. Amazingly, Andy Warhol made his prediction just 8 years after Farming Today started broadcasting.

Last week turned out to be a real fun week. I got to meet some absolutely inspirational people. These were people who were passionate about achieving their ambitions, people with big ideas, people who were emotionally intelligent, warm and forgiving. There was laughter, challenge and ideas exchanged.

And likewise, last week, Farming Today visited Warwick University, where a group of professors gathered together to discuss how to undertake research with insects such as bees and other pollinators where the normal Gold Standard approach to research, the construction of a Random Controlled Trial (RCT) is impossible. The outcome was something wrapped around what was described as 'expert elicitation'. Now in the world of research there is something called an Evidence Hierarchy. In this hierarchy, RCTs rank above qualitative research such as observational studies, while expert opinion and anecdotal experience are ranked at the bottom.

Not everyone has signed up to this hierarchy. Indeed, all my research has been largely qualitative, and I believe that the research I have undertaken, has changed peoples thinking, behaviour and perceptions. What the Farming Today report showed was that I am not alone in thinking that in many contexts, qualitative research and expert opinion can be just as powerful and impactful as the RCT. Indeed, last week I read a great blog from my colleague from Cardiff University, Ben Hannigan. He is also a mental health nurse, teacher and researcher. His work addresses the interrelated areas of service development, policy, roles and values, hearing the voice of service users and the wellbeing of the professional workforce. 

What I like about Bens postings is his desire to explore a wide range of issues to do with mental health nursing, mental health care. Many of his blogs build upon research he and others have undertaken. And he is not afraid of tackling the controversial issues. In fact I could almost say he is to mental health nursing what Farming Today is to farmers – and long may it remain that way.