The School of Management has run a workshop for 25 early career and more senior researchers from the UK and Turkey to explore innovative decision-making tools to pressing challenges in health care planning and management.

Organised by Professor Christos Vasilakis, Director of the research Centre for Healthcare Innovation & Improvement (CHI2) at the University of Bath, and his colleagues Profs. Evrim Didem Günes and Lerzan Örmeci at Koç University in Istanbul, the workshop brought together operational researchers across disciplines with an interest in applying systems modelling and computer simulation techniques to problems in health and care.

With support from a British Council/Newton Fund Researcher Links grant, the workshop provided a unique opportunity for early career scholars to engage with senior researchers and health care practitioners, and to work together on a number of challenges from important areas of care such as stroke prevention, outpatient care for chronic illness and hospital appointment scheduling.

As Professor Vasilakis points out, there is significant value in collaborative research with practitioners, as operational researchers rely on rich data and realistic scenarios to design mathematical models and computer simulations that can have meaningful impact in the way health care is provided. This also means that researchers need to acquire the skills to communicate with diverse stakeholders such as policy-makers, health planners or clinicians in designing research questions, sharing data and creating practical, easy-to-use toolkits for decision-making.

The workshop organisers encouraged participants to form smaller problem-solving teams to design initial modelling solutions, receiving feedback from senior mentors, including Dr Monica Baird, Deputy Medical Director at the North Bristol NHS Trust. As research skills training, this working-group format has lots of potential to be developed further to ensure researchers are connected to actual problems in the health and care sector, explains Dr Paul Forte, the workshop’s facilitator and an independent health care consultant at the Balance of Care Group.

Dr Enis Kayış from Ozyegin University notes:

"Perfect opportunity to meet with fellow colleagues"

For the past five years, my research focus has been operating room scheduling: How to best allocate expensive operating room resources to benefit the patients, surgical team and the hospitals. This workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to meet with fellow colleagues with similar research interests and to establish potential collaborations in a warm and welcoming setting. I absolutely loved the workshop’s design around small and focused working groups around exciting and challenging problems. I look forward to reuse this workshop’s collaboration style to design similar study groups in the future.

The workshop’s collaborative design also benefited from the international exchange of scholars based at institutions in the UK and Turkey. Turkey’s fragmented health care system makes data collection in the country very difficult. Scholars therefore stand to gain from networks with UK partners to complement expertise in theoretical mathematics with building capacities in applied health care research.

Researcher Links grants like the one Professor Vasilakis received are especially designed to support international networking activities for early-career researchers between the UK and select partner countries, including Turkey. Most of this workshop’s participants had been trained at institutions around the world, and were already familiar with working across diverse research cultures. Sustaining such links and transforming them into long-term projects can be more of a challenge.

Professor Vasilakis’ links with his Turkish colleagues grew out of opportunity and personal contacts. A University of Bath “International Research Initiator” grant in 2016 was instrumental in building on these initial contacts and paved the way for visits and joint funding bids.


Further international funding opportunities

The International Relations Office at the University of Bath runs an internal funding scheme to support researchers at the university to apply for seed funding to initiate new international networks or to transform existing contacts into larger joint research projects and activities. The next call for funding will open in October 2017. For more information contact ('mailto:'internationalfunding@bath.ac.uk)