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Engagement stories: practice-based research

Professor Christos Vasilakis, Professor of Management Science, reflects on his practice-based research projects with non-academic partners.

Practice-based research

Practice-based research is situated in practice, with a non-academic partner, and addresses research that has practical relevance to the partner.

My research

My research explores how mathematical modelling and computer simulation methods can help address healthcare delivery problems.

How I use this method of engagement in my research

As a researcher I’m primarily motivated by addressing real-life problems, and that means I have to be where practical problems are generated and exist. In my case this is hospitals and other care delivery organisations.

I go to hospitals, and healthcare events, and try to meet people I could work with. Our initial interaction is usually based on their identifying a problem that we could help with. We then form a project team (often comprising researchers from across disciplines, clinicians, managers and service users) to scope the problem.

To collect data, I undertake observations of practitioners at work, with the research problem shaping what’s observed. Then I often look to bring different practitioners together, eliciting information from them through problem-structuring methods.

Having collected the data, I present it back to the project team, seeking their input on what might be missing, potential next steps, or how study aims and objectives might be refined.

Other types of engagement I am interested in

I got involved in the Public Engagement Unit’s Expressions of Research project, through which I was matched with an artist, Andrew, who would explain my research through art. It helped me and my research team to bring the human dimension back into my work.

I was working on a project looking into the management of blood supplies in the context of a mass casualty event, and Andrew, being an artist, straight away picked up on the human dimension of a mass casualty event, and the blood. For me it was just a process map of how blood is stored and used, and then different ways of organising this store, and processing and distribution. I’d forgotten about the human dimension and drama of a mass casualty event, and Andrew brought this straight back into focus.

How public engagement benefits me

My public engagement work has improved my consultancy skills. Although I’m not a consultant per se, I do need make people understand what I do very quickly, so that they can decide whether they want to be part of it or not, and also convince people to fund the research. Public engagement has definitely improved my ability to quickly explain what I do and how this can benefit potential partners and funders.

Public engagement also helps with impact. The co-creation inherent to my research means that practitioners feel ownership over the end products. Consequently, my research outcomes are more likely to impact upon their work.

Contact us

If you have any questions about practice-based research, the Public Engagement Unit can help.