Is My Thinking Disrupted, or Am I Just Confused?

by Rick Austin April 5, 2012 02:31 PM

As usual (damn him!), @cdnorman has posted a thought-provoking blog which leaves me more confused about my confusion.


Yes, you’re thinking, what is he talking about?


The blog post, “Disruption by Design,” captures some of my feelings of bewilderment over how to keep up with the lightning-fast changes we are living through:


“Observing the city I live in, the media I consume, and the way I learn, I can’t help but be amazed at how much of my life has been disrupted over the past few years. I can access nearly everything I need to run my business and do my research from my handheld or a tablet computer. I can hand that tablet or handheld to someone else and allow them to interact with the content on it by using gestural movements, not a keyboard.”


Science fiction almost always presents our future as a fait accompli – the spaceships are already landing and taking off, the nano-computers are embedded everywhere, the robotic servants are a fact of life. In reality, the future crept up on us in dribs and drabs, and we accepted each little piece as a matter of course.


But imagine (God forbid!) that you were in a terrible car accident 15 years ago, and have been in a deep coma ever since. You’ve just woken up, and things look a little different from the moments before you ran that red light. None of these things existed just before your car crash: Google, networked smartphones, wi-fi, Facebook (let alone 800 million users), or tablet computers.


You see, it’s not dribs and drabs anymore, it’s a torrent, and it affects everything and everybody. Of course, Cameron brings this torrent of change to bear on public health:


“Health promotion and public health are fields ripe for this kind of innovation, so is healthcare. Indeed, movements like those embodied in Patients Like Me, a social network portal aimed at supporting human empowerment in health care.


“We are on the cusp of this taking place in health promotion and human services – whether they are governmental, non-profit or social enterprise-based. Health promotion is largely about enabling individuals, groups and communities to better adapt to change, support themselves and gain greater control over the social determinants of health.”


I heard Patients Like Me CEO Jamie Heywood speak on a panel at SXSW Interactive, and he was the embodiment of disruptive change. Tell me in the comments how you’ve managed to balance on the crest of this torrent of change, and incorporate new technologies and new social cultures into your public health work.

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Relationships and Knowledge Translation... BFFs?

by Rick Austin November 14, 2011 02:00 PM

Another recent thought-provoking post by Cameron Norman at Censemaking got me umm, thinking, about the importance of relationships in knowledge translation.


Cameron is the second Canadian KT person I’ve heard speak emphatically about relationships in the past few days. In our most recent podcast, David Phipps at York University makes it clear that the most important thing he does in his knowledge mobilization work for ResearchImpact is foster personal relationships.


This emphasis on relationships is pretty widespread in Canadian KT. I’ve struck up a number of professional relationships effortlessly in Canada, including Cameron, David Phipps, Peter West, and Melanie Barwick. Can this be attributed to the mindset fostered by the work of CIHR? Is it part of the Canadian psyche? Is it a cultural norm? If it’s a learned behavior, we could use a little more of it here in the United States.

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Should Researchers Be Asking Why? Why Not?

by Rick Austin October 24, 2011 03:31 PM

I’ve written here recently on the concept of design thinking, and how it could help researchers understand the importance of shaping the reporting of their results for their most important audiences.


Here’s some more food for thought from the same source, Cameron Norman’s Censemaking blog.  In talking about how difficult it is to get design thinking out of the “thinking” and into the “doing,” he mentions a technique for digging into your own motivations, called the “Five Whys.” The number five is arbitrary; the point is to ask yourself repeatedly, “why is this happening?” Somewhere around the fifth “why?” you will start to arrive at a root cause. The technique is far from perfect, but it’s an excellent way to shake up your thinking and get new ideas to fall out of the branches.


If you’re a researcher motivated to see practical results come from your research, the “Five Whys” might be modified to “Why? Who? What? What? How?”


1. Why is my research not being used?

2. Who wants my research?

3. What will they do with it?

4. What is their main information resource?

5. How do I get my research to their resource?


This model assumes that the research in question is “pure” research, driven by the research question coming out of either the grant or the researcher’s own curiosity. Thinking about up-front collaboration with stakeholders and end-users is a hurdle for another time.


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Toward a Design Thinking Template

by Rick Austin September 12, 2011 02:52 PM

Thanks to Cameron at Censemaking for pointing me to Andrea Yip’s post on her periodic table of design thinking.


 Andrea admits that it’s a first draft and needs much fleshing out, but looking at it reminded me that there are ways to create practical applications in this area. Melanie Barwick has condensed the tenets of her Scientist Knowledge Translation Training into a template for researchers to guide their thinking about how to implement knowledge translation.


Using Andrea’s periodic table as a starting point, it’s a short jump to a similar practical template to guide scientists and researchers in their thinking about the design of their research; particularly the design of their results.


Would a practical design thinking template be a useful tool for researchers to have on the back end of their project? Tell me what you think in the comments.

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Building Critical Thinking Muscle: The Top Three Questions

by Rick Austin June 28, 2011 12:52 PM

Here’s where we stand: e-patient communities – good; peer-to-peer medicine – good; weak critical thinking/investigative muscle – very, very bad.


A few weeks ago, I blogged about a conversation between Susannah Fox from Pew Internet and Ted Eytan, a medical doctor who is immersed in social media. Ted visited and pointed out an article he had written about the use of social media in medicine, particularly the growth of online patient communities.


My concern, as it’s always been, is how do we get concerned, inquisitive people to engage their critical thinking faculties when talking with their peers about the personally important issues of medicine, health, disease, treatment? In a comment to me on a related blog, Cameron Norman of Censemaking had some essential insights: “I argue that people don't want health care, they want good health and wellbeing. Now, with information at their disposal and the experiences of tens, hundreds or thousands of peers rather than one or two doctors, nurses, social workers or physiotherapists, they are somewhat freed from being wedded exclusively to us expensive folk. This is largely a good thing, except that most people haven't been raised, educated or exposed in a manner that allow this investigative muscle to fully form.”


How would you answer these three questions about building this muscle?


1. Can our traditional educational system build the critical thinking muscle? Can it move quickly enough? How?


2. Can healthcare professionals, as Ted Eytan suggests, be motivated to step into the gap and spend more time educating their patients? If so, how?


3. Can the e-patient communities themselves build their own investigative muscle?


I’ll bet there are some good ideas out there.


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