Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Research impact, the long way round

Lesley Kelly works as a knowledge broker for Growing up in Scotland a longitudinal research study tracking the lives of thousands of Scottish children and their families from birth through to the teenage years and beyond. She is part of the knowledge exchange team at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships

No matter how hard we try to engage directly with stakeholders, sometimes research impact can happen in a more unplanned, circuitous way.

As part of my role in engaging a wide range of stakeholders with the Growing up in Scotland study,  I recently sent out an electronic newsletter to our 1,500 research network members.   As usual, our newsletter featured links to new publications, including journal articles published using data from the study. In this case it included an article about ‘Early parental physical punishment and emotional and behavioural outcomes in pre-school children’. The article had been written over 3 years ago by a public health professional as part of a postgraduate course of study but was only recently published on-line in the journal Child: care, health and development.

A freelance journalist who received the newsletter picked up on the article, particularly the finding that children living in Scotland whose parents had used smacking as discipline technique during their first 2 years were at increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems by age 4 years. The author uses the findings to argue for a change in the law to ban physical punishment of children and for more resources to promote positive disciplinary techniques amongst parents.

This set off a whole chain of awareness raising, debate and publicity.

The journalist wrote a short article for the Scottish newspaper The Herald and contacted one of Scotland’s leading children’s sector charities, who responded by releasing a statement in support of a ban on the use of physical punishment. This is an issue on which many NGOs have been campaigning for years  from a human rights based perspective, so were delighted to find new research providing further support for their argument.

Subsequently, ‘should smacking be made illegal?’ was the subject of a debate on a high-profile programme on BBC Radio Scotland, Call Kaye, featuring detailed input from one of the directors of the children’s charity and many listeners who called in to express their views. While the research itself was given only a brief mention by the radio presenter it might be argued that sharing the research findings helped to raise the profile of the campaign to ban the physical punishment of children in Scotland.

So, the children’s charity, thousands of readers of The Herald and listeners to Radio Scotland were engaged in the issues of whether physical punishment of children should be banned. That group includes parents and carers, practitioners and policy-makers. In the world of knowledge exchange, we have to accept that no matter how hard we plan, there is always room for serendipity. Impact can happen by accident and is no less valuable than planned exchange.

Lesley Kelly
Dissemination Officer (Growing Up in Scotland study)
Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh

This is a simultaneous blog for CRFR and Mobilize This!

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