Don's Diary

April 21, 1995

Sunday. Early start; must get to grips with the 12-inch pile of research funding applications. First meeting of the newly constituted South and West NHS research and development committee tomorrow. Not only am I the token social scientist, I'm one of a small minority from a new university.

Unsurprised to discover that, of more than 30 proposals, none is from a social scientist and almost all are standard randomised control trials. Amazed at applicants' confidence about the susceptibility of complex social phenomena to case/control designs. More worryingly, two proposals seem designed to establish a "scientific" basis for informing decisions about the rationing of services; a quantitative means of differentiating the deserving from the undeserving patient.

Monday. Set off with some unease to the research meeting at Taunton. Not helped by 40-minute wait on a freezing Westbury station. Arrive in time to miss lunch. Afternoon dissolves into a "seamless web" of discussions about "face validity", "power calculations" and "clinical trials". Try and perk up at the very occasional mention of anything about which I have any knowledge. Will be interesting to hear the quality of the debate on proposals (should we ever get any) involving social scientific designs and methods.

Home by 9pm in time to catch general panic over lost glasses and last-minute homework. Much restored by this return to normality and by one real achievement of the day; finish Middlemarch at last.

Tuesday. Just time to clear up mountain-sized molehill created by finance department's disinclination to speak directly to anyone outside faculty office, then off to a neighbouring university to meet colleagues in the regional NHS social science network. Aim of group is to increase the influence of the social science research community on the process whereby research is commissioned. Funeral-paced negotiation of massed ranks of traffic cones gives way to the open road and narrowly-avoided accident. Meeting good humoured and productive; firm up plans for a regional research portfolio and register of potential assessors. Back to office to discuss plans for relocation of the unit: it is purpose-built office accommodation; but extensive structural renovations necessary which may not be completed by the time we move in.

Wednesday. Off on the train to give a paper at the University of Coventry on "The politics of research funding and its implications for social work practice". Okay on the first part, but less sure about the last bit. Hope I have pitched it right; last time I gave a talk to social-work students I was accused of being "too cerebral". Seminar is part of a series on critical issues in social work: good idea, but where do we start? Ask the taxi driver for "the university" and he sets off for Warwick. On return to the right university find a small but select gathering waiting; apparently students find the word research a bit off-putting. So much for the future generation of research-based practitioners. On the train attempt as much office work as possible before succumb to travel sickness. Back in time to miss most of the meeting about the school ski trip.

Thursday. Early meeting with the new director of research. An engineer, but with a reputation for being a bit "non-standard". Outline long list of moans: lack of proper career structure for contract researchers; lack of effective research infrastructure; lack of anything that might remotely be construed as help from finance office, etc. Argue need for coherent central strategy on research, preferably one that has been developed in consultation with researchers. Surprised to find much common ground and leave feeling more optimistic.

's diary body = /Meeting with applicant for social work placement scheme run with local social services department to provide structured "time-out" for social workers to research any aspect of current policy or practice. We provide research and administrative support and the SSD releases the individual for one or two days a week. The practitioner gets some respite from an increasingly pressured work-base; the department gets extremely cheap policy-related research; we get a much-needed injection of the real world.

Pick up kids, then yoga and bed to edit final draft report on public involvement in health-care purchasing; fail to make it past the second section. . .

Friday. To London to meet colleague from social services research group. Jointly editing a special edition of the group's journal on power issues in research. Complete my half of the editing job as arrive at Waterloo. Colleague is a self-employed researcher with an enviable attitude to work: research is a means to the end of world-wide travel. Listen wistfully to tales from the Indian trip. Return to news that purchase of new building has been vetoed pending search for a more cost-effective alternative. Date for demolition of current site is just over two months away.

Saturday. Wake from dream that unit is rehoused in Bombay Hilton. Try not to fret too much until Monday.

Carol Upton

Director of social services research and information unit,

University of Portsmouth.

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