Creating impact from research on ethnic inequalities in older people’s mental and physical health

dharmi kapadia

Dharmi Kapadia, UK Data Service Data Impact Fellow, shares the outcomes of her new role as Q-Step Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester focusing on research and teaching.

Since I wrote my last blog post, I’m pleased to say that I have a new job! I’m now a Q-Step Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester (the Q in Q-Step stands for quantitative – the type of methods that I’ll be teaching my undergraduate students). My new role focuses on research and teaching in equal parts. So while there’s still plenty of space for me to be imaginative in creating impact from my research, I’m also using data resources available from the UK Data Service in my teaching materials.

Over the last few months, I worked on a project proposal with colleagues at The University of Manchester. We wanted to investigate the extent and changing nature of ethnic inequalities in older people’s mental and physical health and mortality in the UK over the last 20 years using secondary data that is available to us. After a lot of work (!) we submitted this proposal to the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI).  If we’re successful in our application we’ll be using a number of datasets available from the UK Data Service: the Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities [1994], the Health Survey for England [1999 & 2004] and Understanding Society [Waves 1 and 6]. We’ll also be using the ONS Longitudinal Study linked to the death register to create life expectancy estimates for older people in different ethnic minority groups in the UK. When putting the grant together, we thought very carefully about how impact could be created from this project; to us there was no point in conducting the research if we couldn’t use the findings to influence health policy, practitioners and community groups working with older people. In addition, the ESRC stipulates that research proposals submitted to this competition must be able to create real societal impact – this reflects the changing tide in academia where academics are required to show how public money is being used effectively to create societal change.

So to really ensure that the findings from our project could influence audiences outside of academia, we selected a number of impact partners that we already had some connections with, including the Race Equality Foundation and Public Health England. The diversity of these partners would allow us to take our findings to a wide range of people outside of academia: policy makers, health professionals, the general public. Finding partners that are relevant to research projects and that are willing to be involved can be challenging; with the increased importance on impact that funders (Research Councils especially) and Universities are stipulating to academic staff, there can sometimes be multiple requests to charitable organisations and NGOs from many different academics. We, as academics, need to ensure that there is real benefit to partner organisations from our research, and we must resist the temptation to simply select impact partners to fulfil funding criteria.

Social Justice Challenge videos on inequalities in mental health

In terms of creating impact from completed research, I will be part of the University of Manchester Social Justice Challenge videos on inequalities in mental health, where I’ll talk about my PhD research on inequalities in using mental health services for ethnic minority women in the UK. This video is one in a series that will be shown to new undergraduates at the start of the academic year to get them thinking about real world issues that they may want to work on as part of their degree. I was really pleased to be asked to be part of these videos, as it is an opportunity to highlight my research to students at the university as well as making them think about inequalities in the UK, and how they might want to combat these inequalities via activities such as volunteering, society membership and campaigning during their time at university.

Developing impact from research and data in teaching

I’ve also been able to create impact from research and data in teaching undergraduate students as part of my new role as Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester. In the lectures that I have given so far, I’ve taught students about the research that I have conducted on ethnic inequalities in mental health and the labour market as examples of how quantitative data can be used in sociological research. I’ve also used a freely available dataset from the UK Data Service, the Attitudes towards Commercial Access to Health Data, to teach students basic descriptive statistics. Interestingly, I also gave a guest talk on a masters level module about data impact in academia; I talked to the students about my recent project proposal submitted to the ESRC and the ethical considerations of asking organisations to be impact partners. I ended the talk with the question: even if we have created impact as measured by a whole host of metrics, does anything ever really change as a result of our research? This may seem slightly cynical (!) but it is a question that we have to ask ourselves as social scientists. Although we would love to create changes in societal attitudes, behaviours, practices, procedures and legislation (and beyond) from our research, in reality this is very difficult to do, especially if the messages that we wish to convey are not in agreement with the ‘powers that be’. But we should continue to get our research findings out to a wide an audience as possible; this is part of our job as responsible, engaged and dedicated social scientists.

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