How to bridge the gap between research and real life

Tons of fascinating research findings get published in academic journals. But how much of them are really translated into practice and sustainably implemented?

In order for science to be valuable it needs to be used: in the short run possibly as a stepping stone for new research but ultimately it needs to change something in real life.

I don’t think we optimally use the knowledge we gather about trauma recovery and other mental health issues for the public good. Nor in other disciplines for that matter. As an indication, many universities only stimulate academic output. Publications in professional outlets, popular science magazines, blogs, or policy documents are not ‘counted’ for performance reviews. I even know of institutional boards that state publications under Impact Factor 2 – an academic publication metric, only a few peer-reviewed psychology journals reach this level – should be considered ‘weak’ (and should therefore not be registered on employees’ publication records!).

As a result, there is a gap between research and real life that desperately needs a bridge.

Of course, there are excellent examples of succesful research translation. Fortunately, several teams do make a real difference in people’s lives based on solid studies. And they are more numerous than I can mention here: the trauma-focused CBT developers do a fantastic job in combining research with providing training materials. The 2×2 project ‘health beyond the headlines’ translates public health findings into attractive, informative blog posts for the general public. The field is discovering ways to share knowledge about trauma recovery via apps (e.g. the Psychological First Aid app PFA Mobile, and PTSD Coach to manage PTSD symptoms).

But I think that these are exceptions and that we lose many interesting research findings in the process. When scientists simply don’t have the resources to take their results that step further. When they don’t have the skills to do it because we don’t train them in this area. When they just don’t have the time because they need to publish more ‘high-impact’ (yes, see the irony) scientific journal articles instead.

No complaining without proposing a solution however. ..  While changing university and government policy is a necessity (and it is changing, see the LSE Impact Blog), I think we can do some ‘tickling’ of the scientific community to get them (ourselves :-)) into action.

With a number of like-minded people, we have just started a new chapter of the Awesome Foundation: Awesome Knowledge. The Awesome Foundation has a beautifully simple way of seed-funding new initiatives: each chapter consists of about 10 trustees who each give 100 dollar per month. Each month, they have dinner together (or a skype call in our international case, less delicious unfortunately) and before dessert, they decide which of this month’s applicants should get a grant of 1000 dollar. Very quick and no strings attached.

It has led to some amazing projects so far: in Melbourne, restaurants serve honey from inner-city rooftop hives as a result of an Awesome grant. It has supported Tram Sessions (“we put bands on Melbourne trams for your commuting pleasure”). In total, the Awesome Foundation has currently funded 347 projects worldwide.

Awesome Knowledge can serve as accelerator for valuable science related projects. It is a monthly incentive to put some of our academic learning into practice. I’m sure the ripple effect will be beneficial; while 1000 dollar is a small sum, it is enough to get an exciting idea of the ground and build a prototype, generate media interest, or reach a specific community. And not in the least, inspire others to get started as well.

So I’d like to both invite and challenge you: submit your creative implementation and communication ideas to Awesome Knowledge. And find a little money to spare for your colleagues in different disciplines and countries (you can also team up with friends of course), get involved as a trustee!

What other small things can we do to get more social impact out of our scientific endeavors?

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