S3 Ep1: Data Moves
Welcome back to series three of Made at UCL! Cerys Bradley is our producer-turned-host this year alongside six new UCL student hosts.
Join Cerys, Taqwa Sadiq, Chanju Mwanza and Katie Davies for this months episode: Data Moves. We’re looking at the impact of data, the absence of data and how data can be utilised across three of our incredible REF case studies.
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Dr Elizabeth Shepherd is a Professor of Archives and Records Management and Head of Department for the Department of Information Studies. She joined DIS in 1992 to update and revise the MA in Archives and Records Management of which she was programme director until 2002. Her research interests are in the development of the archive profession in 20th Century England and she is researching the life and work of pioneering women archivists in England. Her research into rights in records, links between records management and information policy compliance, and government administrative data includes AHRC and ESRC-funded projects. She has published numerous articles and (with Geoffrey Yeo) the best selling book Managing Records: a handbook of principles and practice (Facet Publishing, 2003) and is author of the monograph, Archives and archivists in 20th century England (Ashgate, 2009).
Alison Rodger is Professor of Infectious Diseases at University College London and a consultant in infectious diseases and HIV at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Her research interests include reducing rates of new HIV infections, HIV self-testing, assessing the cost effectiveness of HIV prevention, and improving the long-term health of people with HIV. She was lead author on the PARTNER HIV transmission study
Jennifer Hudson is Professor of Political Behaviour and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences at UCL. She is the Director of the Development Engagement Lab (DEL), a multi-country research programme working in partnership with over 30 international development NGOs and government ministries to analyze and understand public support for aid and sustainable development. Jennifer has published widely on elite and mass political behaviour, including public opinion and engagement with development, support for foreign aid, and campaigns and elections. Professor Hudson’s research has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Danish Council for Independent Research, Nuffield Foundation and Leverhulme Trust.
people, data, hiv, research, ucl, child, findings, file, partner, antiretroviral therapy, virus, living, treatment, question, study, records, campaign, project, stigma, researchers
Professor Jennifer Hudson, Care leaver voice #4, Advert clip #3, U=U campaign, Advert clip #1, Katie Davies, Care leaver voice #3, Theme music, Professor Elizabeth Shepherd, Professor Alison Rodger, Chanju Mwanza, Care leaver voice #5, Taqwa Sadiq, Cerys Bradley, Care leaver voice #2, Care leaver voice #1, Advert clip #2
Cerys Bradley 00:05
Hello and welcome to series three of #MadeAtUCL, the podcast. My name is Cerys Bradley, and I'm here to share with you UCL's groundbreaking research and its impact on the world.
Cerys Bradley 00:19
You might remember me from the credits of series two, which I produced. Well, I'm back as a host this year and I've been joined by six UCL students. Each month, the new #MadeAtUCL team and I will be exploring a research theme and gathering stories from all over the UCL community to try and understand it.
Cerys Bradley 00:36
In Episode One, we're looking at data, a pretty straightforward theme, you might think, data seems, well, integral to all research, right? It's hard to imagine research without it in fact. But despite its ubiquitousness data is an interesting lens through which we can understand not only the world, but research itself. When I did my PhD, one of the biggest research challenges was how to collect my data in the first place. I studied the dark web, which is by design quite difficult to access. So how can you be sure that the data you're collecting is accurate when the people you're collecting data from are trying very hard not to be found? I mean, the answer is basically you can't. When I started my research, I naively thought that science worked by asking a question and then answering it, I didn't realize how much of science was worrying about whether you were really answering the question you thought you'd asked or something else entirely. I've been very interested in how people think about, collect and use data ever since. Which brings us to our episode.
Theme music 01:33
Cerys Bradley 01:33
And today's stories, we're going to learn more about the interesting ways that UCL researchers are using data and how they understand its limits and its potential. We're going to learn about the ways in which data is being used to break the stigma around HIV, and how it has transformed the way we think about foreign aid. But first, we're going to start with the story of how data can often make its biggest impact when it is not there at all.
Cerys Bradley 02:06
All of these stories are Research Excellent case studies, and represent some of the best and most impactful research at UCL. Thanks to them and similar work UCL are second in the country for Research Power in the REF 202e results. You can find out more about UCL's award winning research in a new podcast series Where Research Transforms Lives. But more on that later.
Cerys Bradley 02:29
Our first story is brought to you by Taqwa Sadiq as she investigates the experience of people who were in care as children trying to access their records.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 02:38
Can you imagine so you get a letter from your local authority about something and it's all blanked out, except for just your name?
Taqwa Sadiq 02:49
This is Professor Elizabeth Shepherd.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 02:51
I'm Professor of Archives and Records mManagement in the Department of Information Studies at UCL.
Taqwa Sadiq 02:56
Elizabeth is part of MIRRA a UCL research project to help people who are in care as children access their own care files. Throughout our conversation, you will also hear care leavers share their experiences in their own words. I was intrigued to know what's actually in these files that Elizabeth and MIRRA are working so hard to make accessible. And I was a bit surprised when I found out...
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 03:19
In almost every case in our research, the child's care file contained nothing personal, nothing positive very often, no school certificates, almost no photographs, invitations or birthday cards, probably nothing from their family.
Taqwa Sadiq 03:39
I guess then that begs the question, why do people want access to these files in the first place?
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 03:44
They usually had some particular questions which they hoped the file would answer. Often the file didn't answer the questions, but they perhaps they literally couldn't remember where they'd lived as a child, or didn't really know which schools they'd been to.
Care leaver voice #1 03:59
I would just want to try and put some on my memories, but together because it became all jumbled up.
Care leaver voice #2 04:05
I had some gaps in my history, gaps in my life that I wanted answers to - needed filling in.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 04:12
And one of the most common questions was "why was I taken into care?" And often, the adults thought it had somehow been their fault that they were responsible for being taken away from their family. And in almost every case, that was not, well in every case in our research, that was not true. But they often feared that that they'd done something terrible to be put into care. Somebody we spoke to in the in the research, she did discover some of her family circumstances and finally understood that it wasn't her fault that she was put into care. So in that case, it clearly did help her to make some sense of why she wasn't didn't live with her family as a young child.
Taqwa Sadiq 04:56
Clearly the value of these files for care leavers is huge. Even if the files don't contain perfect answers to their questions, but accessing the file in the first place is not an easy task.
Care leaver voice #3 05:07
Local authorities don't necessarily make people aware of the fact that you can access your files
Care leaver voice #2 05:14
I was in my 20s and I'd not heard that I could access care records.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 05:20
So you first have to work out who might have these records? Who do I actually ask?
Taqwa Sadiq 05:25
And that's not straightforward because
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 05:27
You might have been looked after in different public authorities or by different bodies. So first of all, you have to work out who to ask because they will keep their own records. And there isn't a national coordination between between those different systems.
Taqwa Sadiq 05:40
What seems absurd to me is that there's no special route for care leavers. They have to use a General Subject Access Request Route, under the General Data Protection Act. And to use that request route,
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 05:51
you have to prove who you are, even though it's an authority that looked after you when you were a child, so they ought to know who you are, but you still have to prove it to them. Otherwise, they won't answer your request, then you have to wait. Probably with no, perhaps with no information for weeks or months.
Care leaver voice #1 06:07
It's meant to take a month. And in my case, he took over a year.
Taqwa Sadiq 06:11
And this is if the file still exists, some people wait all this time to find that their file has been destroyed or lost.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 06:20
It's usually very devastating. One of our co-researchers and one of the people we interviewed said, it made me feel like I'd been rejected all over again. Because not only was I in care as a child, but then my corporate parent, my parent, the organization responsible for looking after me, didn't even bother to keep the file.
Taqwa Sadiq 06:39
But sometimes after weeks or months of waiting with no information, they send it to you.
Care leaver voice #2 06:46
Receiving my file was hugely emotional,
Care leaver voice #4 06:50
it was a lot to take in in one go, I'd gone from a stage of not knowing the file existed, to suddenly being presented with years and years of my life and care,
Care leaver voice #5 07:03
I found it very upsetting. And I know that some people who've accessed their files are sadly no longer with us because they couldn't bear the information that they read.
Taqwa Sadiq 07:13
What's quite concerning is that there's rarely any counseling or support offered to you as you receive the file to help you process the file, no explanation of what any of this bureaucratic legalese paperwork actually means. And that's especially difficult because often much of the information is redacted.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 07:32
Everything about their siblings, their parents, their teachers, their care workers all removed. But actually, all of that is the personal information of the child, the looked after child, because it is all to do with them in one way or another.
Taqwa Sadiq 07:46
What happens when you see a line that's been blacked out? You've got an a4 page and you've just got one sentence left? Yes, the rest is all blacked out. Even if that's information that you already know. What is that experience like? What have you observed?
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 08:01
Can you imagine so you get a letter from your local authority about something and it's all blanked out, except for just your name? That's so distressing, and disappointing and unhelpful.
Theme music 08:14
Taqwa Sadiq 08:20
And this is where MIRRA comes in. When you're standing or MIRRA the project or standing in front of this monolithic system, trying to make some changes. How does that feel?
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 08:32
Well, the response from social workers that we've spoken to has been fantastic. So there are lots of people who are really keen to try to do better. So that's the point of working with information professionals and social workers and care experienced adults to try to talk together about what a better system could look like, what it would look like, and to make some procedural incremental changes. And so we had a number of symposiums, which were often the first time that say a child's social worker had spoken to a care experienced adult about record keeping issues. And it was really very interesting, I think, for all the different groups to share together and to actually hear the other perspectives so clearly.
Care leaver voice #4 09:18
People need to be mindful that how stuff is written will impact on how that person feels about themselves.
Care leaver voice #2 09:24
When records are written, they need to remember that this is a person,
Care leaver voice #1 09:29
A lot of feelings and emotions are put across as if they're mine. And I didn't always feel that way. What's sad about it is that my voice is really not in that in that document there's 126 pages, you have to get to page 51. Before you hear me talk.
Taqwa Sadiq 09:45
MIRRA centers the point of view of the child in care, or the adult accessing their records later in life. One of the key ways they achieved this is by having 11 care experienced adults as co-researchers in this project.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 09:57
So this was absolutely essential to the success of the research project, fundamentally changed the process and the findings and the outcomes of the research, I would say. The fact that they're experts this - so we're record keeping researchers and academics, but we don't have that lived experience. They reminded us all the time about what was important, and what mattered.
Taqwa Sadiq 10:21
It's really amazing that you're able to get all these different perspectives in one space, to understand how the data is moving between them and how it needs to be moving better.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 10:31
Absolutely, yes, I think that's that's why this work has been as successful and as resonant. So I think it is, it is creating that space for the conversations between groups that don't always get a chance to hear each other.
Taqwa Sadiq 10:45
Based on the findings of this project mirror, thinking differently about how the archive can better serve the people whose lives are recorded in it.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 10:54
To think about the idea of actually giving the care experienced child when they leave care when they become an adult, enabling them to take with them their care record, so they don't have to come back and ask later, they have it anyway, they might not want to read it when they're 18 or 20. But if they have it to hand, then with everything in it, nothing redacted, then they can read it if they want to later, or providing a safe space, some kind of digital environment where they have a unique code which they're given as part of their living care package. So that if they want to look at it, they don't have to go through this bureaucratic process later.
Care leaver voice #4 11:37
For people who are care experienced words, pictures are part of their identity. And without identity, there is no life.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 11:50
We have had a number of people who've just contacted us out of the blue, and said, they found it really helpful to hear one of our talks or so on, and that that gave them either the confidence or a bit of practical information, which meant they could get started on their journey to find their file and learn a bit more about their childhood.
Taqwa Sadiq 12:15
And it must be quite rewarding to see your work having an impact in that way.
Professor Elizabeth Shepherd 12:21
It is, but I - the credit for that has to go to our care experience co-researchers. It's an incredible privilege for me as an academic, to be able to work with this community and this group, and to be able to contribute our expertise, but in a way that is meaningful and useful, and can make a practical difference in people's lives. And it's only because the care experienced co-researchers were so willing to get involved, have been so incredibly committed to the work that's transformed the research. But it's also made it and the most incredible privilege for for me to be involved with.
Taqwa Sadiq 13:05
If you have been affected by any of the issues spoken about in this interview, and you would like to get in touch with MIRRA or to find out more about the MIRRA project, please visit www.blogs.ucl.ac.uk/MIRRA. That's M I double R A. Further details are in the show notes.
Cerys Bradley 13:29
So from helping people find their data to using data to help people. In our next story, Chanju Mwanza spoke to Professor Alison Rodger about HIV research, and how data could be the key to destigmatizing the virus.
Chanju Mwanza 13:50
Over 37 million people around the world are living with HIV, a medical condition that attacks the body's immune system. People living with the virus are often at risk of experiencing stigma and discrimination, which can have serious consequences not only at the individual level, but also across communities and society as a whole. Whilst some of the stigmas and misconceptions of HIV have persisted, for nearly half a decade, the scientific community has evolved. Over the years, there's been immense medical progress that has transformed the treatment available to those living with HIV, significantly improving their quality of life. For example, the development of antiretroviral therapy.
Professor Alison Rodger 14:33
So antiretroviral therapy are the drugs that we use to treat HIV. And we usually use a combination of these drugs. And what they do is they stop the virus replicating in someone's body so they reduce the level of virus in somebody's blood who's living with HIV, such that it becomes what we call undetectable and that means the tests that we use in a laboratory can't find any evidence of the virus. We know it's still there, and if we stopped the drugs, it would come back, but what we try and do and the aim of treatment is to make people suppressed on treatments such that you can't find any evidence of the virus.
Chanju Mwanza 15:03
That's Professor Alison Rodger.
Professor Alison Rodger 15:05
I'm a clinical academic. So I do clinical work at the Royal Free in Infectious Diseases and HIV and then I also have an academic role at UCL in the Institute of Global Health.
Chanju Mwanza 15:16
It's worth mentioning the issues of inequity when we talk about these medical treatments. According to UN AIDS, 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy as of 30th of June 2021. Yet estimates are that between 30.2 and 45.1 million people globally, were living with HIV in 2020. Not everyone living with HIV around the world has access to the treatment that they need, a potential cause of 1000s of deaths. At the root of some of these issues remains the stigma surrounding the virus, which can be a barrier for people getting tested, or gaining access to the treatment that they need. But imagine a piece of data that could play a role in transforming the misconceptions underpinning this stigma. This data now exists through groundbreaking research led by Professor Alison Rodger that showed conclusively that people whose HIV infection is fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs have no possibility of infecting sexual partners, even when condoms were not used. For me, this data tells a story of liberation, of opening up opportunity for social justice to be achieved, because it shatters some of the very foundations on which stigmas are formed. It provides yet another motivation or reason for people to get tested to gain access to the antiretroviral therapy that they need. And to show that living with HIV does not mean that you have to put your life on hold. It shows that people living with HIV can have sexual partners, or even have biological children without fear of passing on the virus. The data takes away the element of the fear of the unknown, because it is so conclusive in its findings. For me, the data shows the power in numbers. And the fact that so many individuals were willing to take part in a study for the collective good that could come out of it, I personally find inspiring. It's a data story filled with optimism. And it starts 10 years ago, with the launch of the Partner Study. I spoke to Professor Rodger about the study and how it came about...
Professor Alison Rodger 17:19
We'd sort of had, you know, signals from about 2000 that viral load was the single biggest determinant of whether you would pass HIV on and that was whether you would do it sexually, or whether you would do it sort of maternal to child. So that was the biggest thing. I mean, you if you drop the viral load, your risk of transmission fell. But what we didn't know was how far it reduced it. So we sort of thought, right, we really need to get the evidence for this. So we set up the Partner Studies. And that was an observational study, which means we didn't randomize people, we didn't tell you whether to use condoms or not. We basically said, if you're on treatment, you've chosen not to use condoms with your negative partner and all we'll do is we'll recruit you to the study and we'll follow you up over time. And we'll send you questionnaires and we'll measure the blood levels on the positive partner to make sure you suppress, we'll measure the levels of the negative partner to make sure they're still negative. And if a negative partner became positive, then we compare the viruses through sequencing to make sure it didn't come from the positive partner on treatment. Now, it took us a long, long time, we did it in two phases.
Chanju Mwanza 18:16
Between 2010 and 2014, Professor Rodger and colleagues collected data on both heterosexual couples and gay men, with findings showing zero link transmissions in 58,000 instances when couples had condomless sex. This means that the HIV positive partner on antiretroviral therapy never passed on the virus. But there was still more work to be done to make sure that the findings were robust.
Professor Alison Rodger 18:39
But the big problem is, when you use data, you have to be really sure of the data. So just because you get no transmissions doesn't mean there's zero risk. They're very different concepts, as you know. So we knew from looking at the precision of the estimate that and people who had heterosexual sex, we had enough people who'd had heterosexual sex in the study, we could be really sure. But with gay men, we just didn't have the numbers in the study. So we kept going, and we did another four years and we recruited just gay men. And by the end of Partner 2, which reported at a conference 2018, then republished 2019, overall 77,000 times had sex without a condom, so absolutely massive. Zero link transmissions again, 50 negative partners became positive, but they didn't come from the positive partner on treatment. And the absolute upper limit of risk was like once in 450 years of condomless sex.
Chanju Mwanza 19:35
But this data was no mean feat to collect. Alison and colleagues work across 10 years with 75 sites across 14 European countries to get to this point. And this data plays a role in campaigning for better understanding of HIV, better access to testing and treatment. The data from the Partner Study went on to be one of the pieces of research that informed the grassroots undetectable equals untransmittable or U=U campaign launched by Bruce Richman.
U=U campaign 20:03
U=U, U=U, U=U, undetectable equals on transmittable.
Professor Alison Rodger 20:11
The U=U campaign. I mean, I think that's astonishing. It's probably the most influential grassroots campaign I've seen in my lifetime. And that's driven by Bruce Richman, who's a good friend. So Bruce is living with HIV and when he started treatment, probably about 2012-13, his consultant said, look, I think there's probably pretty minimal risk you can transmit if you're suppressed. And he was astonished that this wasn't more widely known. And so he started the U=U campaign. And Partner 1 reported early data in 2014. That's really what drove him to start that U=U campaign. And I think it's suddenly sort of emerged probably in the last five years that the impact of this study, it wasn't just an academic question, it wasn't just something people wouldn't know the answer to. It impacted on so many areas of people's lives. And you know, it sort of removes I think, for people living with HIV, the fear of transmitting to sexual partners is huge. And lifting that weight, I think is astonishing. You know, it simplifies conception. You know, if you're living with HIV, you can go on and have children, you know, you don't have to do this sperm washing or, you know, time, it just simplifies that to be able to just do some natural part of life. The other thing I think, is it sort of really takes a sledgehammer to HIV criminalization. So lots of people actually a lot in the US are imprisoned, you know, for risks that Partner data disproves, I think also, you know, it encourages people to test, to go on to treatment, or stay on treatment and sort of this powerful message that everyone should have access to incredibly good services to be able to, you know, take good care of yourself, if you're living with HIV. So think there's so many areas of people's lives...
Chanju Mwanza 21:45
The U=U campaign started with an individual story that was echoed in the experiences of many living with HIV. And at the center of the Partner study is people. From the couples that volunteered to take part in the study and formed for data through to the clinicians, researchers and nurses working on the study, the activists, the community organizers, and those who are at the forefront of awareness campaigning, the data has equipped and enabled people to start talking, to start taking action, and to start to transform negative misconceptions of what it means to live with HIV today.
Professor Alison Rodger 22:20
You know, the way HIV works is quite different to other areas that we tend to work really closely with the community. So we've always done that. And we spoke to to community activists, who again, were really interested in the question, and we sort of discussed with them, and then we formed, you know, the Partner study group, and we got the funding, and they are heavily involved all the way through. I mean, I'm just hugely grateful to everyone, as I say, that took part in the study, and the academics and clinicians and, you know, clinic nurses and everyone who tried to recruit to the study, and we're so grateful to the couples who took part. I mean, it really grateful, you know, 1000s of couples and the fact that they give up their time to answer this question.
Chanju Mwanza 22:58
And now, with a partner study completed, the focus turns to getting people through the doors to be tested for HIV, enabling people to have access to the right medication when they need it. And supporting campaigners to challenge the stigmas associated with HIV. And so the challenge is no longer how do we collect enough data? It's now how do we share our research so that everybody can benefit from it. And not just those who already have access to antiretroviral therapy.
Professor Alison Rodger 23:24
And so I think it's getting access, as I said, to testing, to treatment and just destigmatizing the whole process so that people aren't worried about coming forward to be tested. It's just a virus. You know, that's all it is. It's it cannot be, you know, this defining status, it's just I think we just need to chip away at that until it's just another part of managing your health.
Cerys Bradley 23:55
And now to our third and final story. Whilst the role of data in for example HIV research might seem quite straightforward, that is not always the case. Katie Davies has been untangling the complex issues of foreign aid to answer the question, how far can data take us?
Katie Davies 24:12
It's likely that we've all seen at least one public aid appeal campaign that uses negative imagery in our lifetime.
Advert clip #1 24:20
All the families here are struggling and don't know where their next meal is coming from.
Advert clip #2 24:23
Right now, conflict is taking a devastating toll on families in South Sudan.
Advert clip #3 24:28
Right now, more than 250 children are dying in Somalia every day.
Katie Davies 24:33
But how do these types of appeal campaigns make you feel? This is the type of question that is at the heart of Professor Jennifer Hudson's database research. Her work centers around understanding public support and engagement with development and foreign aid.
Professor Jennifer Hudson 24:49
We work with over really 30 NGOs and state aid agencies in the UK, in France, Germany and the US to understand why people take action to fight global poverty. Why do they care if we spend money on overseas aid, what motivates the public to get involved?
Katie Davies 25:12
The idea behind Jennifer's work really stood out to me. But what I was most interested in was how this research was driven by data.
Professor Jennifer Hudson 25:20
We try and come up with an evidence base of a real learning - what moves and doesn't move the public? So data is fundamental to what we do. It's at the absolute core of this project. When we were granted to do this research, our primary instruction was to find out the truth.
Katie Davies 25:40
Working directly with NGOs and state aid agencies, Jennifer and her team gathered data across all four countries in a variety of different ways. The first approach was
Professor Jennifer Hudson 25:51
Tracker. So we have 10 kinds of questions that we ask in the countries three times a year so we can give our partners and we can kind of understand where attitudes change at three different points in the year. And what that does for us is it allows us to see when concerns about particular issues like the Coronavirus Pandemic ebb and flow. When concerns about war, or other crises ebb and flow so we can see that with respect to Iraq and Iran a few years ago, we can see that now in Ukraine. But it also lets us see where Sustainable Development sits alongside those issues and how it's an issue of concern or not for the public.
Katie Davies 26:34
The second type of data Jennifer worked with was centered around data collection directly from the people who donate, a method Jennifer called
Professor Jennifer Hudson 26:43
Sandboxes. And the idea here is that we really focus on one or two issues, we do a deep dive into why people donate, whether what are the different kinds of areas they want foreign aid to be spent on what messages we might test a whole range of messages with the public, and see which ones work or don't work. But a sandbox is a way a place to play, it's a place to do some experimental work with some data.
Katie Davies 27:13
I'd always viewed data as either right or wrong. So Jennifer's description of sandbox data being a place to play really stood out to me. I wanted to find out more about what she meant by experimenting with data.
Professor Jennifer Hudson 27:27
We might know that 52% of the british public want to keep current levels of aid spending where they're at or increase them. But the sand, the sandboxes allow us to try and play with that and see how we move attitudes, not just kind of understand where they are.
Katie Davies 27:43
Importantly, the data gathered then gets turned into a research finding, actionable insights that organizations can then take up.
Professor Jennifer Hudson 27:52
Once we produce a finding from our data set. What do we think the actionable insight, what's the practical learning what's the kind of impact of that data for an organization if they want to take the insight and, you know, shape a campaign or shape a fundraising effort with that. And so we've got to be really confident that that data is of the best quality it can be. But the insights we draw from that, and how we communicate those is also a hugely important part of a data for us in this project.
Katie Davies 28:28
Personally, I found the example of her research finding on negative imagery appeals particularly striking.
Professor Jennifer Hudson 28:35
We know from the evidence that those kinds of appeals do work to bring in donations. But what we didn't quite understand is, are there unintended consequences of using those images on the public consistently? And so what we found through a piece of research is that, yes, by using those kinds of negative images, you can get donations. That's the kind of received wisdom we know that works well. But we also know that it dampens people's sense of efficacy, their ability to think that they're making a difference over the long term. And so there's a there's that unintended consequence of you might be winning the short term gain by getting in donations. But over the long haul, you're really dampening or suppressing people's, you know, sense that that this is a worthwhile endeavor that this is a solvable problem, that they're actually helping in a really good way. And the second part of the finding there was we tried contrasting that negative image with a positive image. And really looking at the emotions that are surrounding these images. And what we found was when you show a much more positive image that gives people feelings of hope, and that hope also generates donations. But it also stimulates their sense of efficacy that they can make a difference. So there's two ways of doing this, and one doesn't have that negative, unintended consequence. So the lesson here is, you know, not not to say, don't show the the negative image, but recognize the unintended consequence of doing that on efficacy. And there's this other pathway that you can engage people, you can show them the positive message, they will donate, and it will make them feel more like they can make a difference, which is which is more advantageous in in the long run.
Katie Davies 30:38
Throughout my discussion with Jennifer, the importance of her relationship with the partner organizations became apparent,
Professor Jennifer Hudson 30:44
It really is kind of a mutually kind of produced constituted collaboration to come up with the projects that we do, to think about the questions that we ask. And I think it's increasingly reflective of how academics are working with external partners. And bridging that gap between what happens in higher education and what's happening in policymaking or in, you know, business and the private sector. But those those collaborations are fundamental, certainly to answering some of the big questions that are in front of humanity, climate inequality, sustainable development. And so it's been a really, it's been a really interesting and valuable process, having the opportunity to work with these organizations. And I can just say, as a researcher, I really recommended it - it's stretched me as a scholar, having a kind of news kind of community or constituency to work with, and learn from.
Katie Davies 31:52
I'd set out to understand Jennifer's work and the data behind it. And while data certainly was essential to this project, it was striking that this data alone was insufficient to complete it. It was the collaboration with partner organizations that was equally important.
Cerys Bradley 32:16
Thank you for listening to the first episode of season three. We'll be back next month with more stories from the UCL community. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about any of the projects featured in today's episode, you can check the show notes for links to all of the projects.
Cerys Bradley 32:31
You might also want to subscribe to our new podcast Where Research Transforms lives hosted by Rosie Anderson. Where Research Transformes Lives explores UCL's research featured in Research England's Research Excellence Framework 2021, including the three stories featured today and is available on SoundCloud or your favorite podcasting app.
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Thank you for listening to #MadeAtUCL, the podcast to listen. To previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL, or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast.
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This episode was presented by myself Cerys Bradley with stories from Taqwa Sadiq, Katie Davies and Chanju Mwanza. It was produced by Halle McCarthy with support from UCL and featured theme music from the bluedotsessions. For a full list of audio credits, please see the show notes.
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Special thanks to Elizabeth, Jennifer and Alison for sharing their research with us and to UCL Information Studies for supplying recordings of the MIRRA project participants.
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This project is brought to you by UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content and activities that are open to everyone.
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See you next month.