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Spotlight on: the Best Research award nominations

This week we throw the spotlight on the five projects and lead researchers that have been nominated for the best research category as part of the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Wellcome Trust’s Health Humanities Medal 2018.

This new national award shines a light on the brilliant achievements and potential of arts and humanities research in helping to improve the quality of life, and wellbeing, of the nation.

Arts can be a route towards better health - as these remarkable projects show, from museum-based social prescribing programmes that have helped improve psychological wellbeing to projects designed to aid the understanding and management of breathlessness.

Museums on Prescription: Exploring the role and value of cultural heritage in social prescribing

Professor Helen Chatterjee, University College London

Professor Helen Chatterjee, Professor of Biology in the Division of Biosciences, School of Life and Medical Sciences at UCL has been nominated for both Best Research and the Leadership Award for the AHRC / Wellcome Trust's 2018 Health Humanities Medal.

Helen is the Principal Investigator and Head of Museums on Prescription, a three-year AHRC research project exploring the value of museum-based social prescribing programmes for lonely older adults at risk of social isolation.

Vulnerable and at risk older adults were identified and referred by social and psychological services, and community organisations. Project partners included The British Museum, The British Postal Museum and Archive and Central Saint Martin’s Study Collection; and referrers included Age UK, various NHS Foundation Trusts and Kent County Council.

In the first phase, researchers reviewed over 100 social prescribing schemes to assess best practice and in phase two of the study, partner museums carried out 12 exciting, ten-week programmes of museums-based activities attended by 115 participants. Sessions were led by museum staff and included curator talks, behind-the scenes tours, and creative and co-productive activities inspired by the collections involving writing, drawing, printmaking, weaving, and designing exhibitions, booklets and guides.

Quantitative analysis of the project found significant improvements in psychological wellbeing that were sustained beyond the end of the programme. Qualitative analysis revealed a sense of belonging, improved quality of life, renewed interest in learning, increased creativity and social activity, and continued visits to museums.

Using design-led research to address the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance

Professor Alastair S Macdonald, Glasgow School of Art

A product designer by training, Alastair is now Senior Researcher in the School of Design at the Glasgow School of Art. Alastair’s research focuses on the interface between design, health and care practice, and people’s experiences of products and services, using an evidence-based participative co-design approach to develop new interventions. This design-led approach creates the space and means for those who don’t usually have much of a voice in healthcare matters to input their essential insights and experience into the research and development process. Within the area of infection prevention and control (IPC), and anti-microbial resistance (AMR) research, Alastair led the development of design-led research approaches, integrating these with those of other disciplines, to produce new knowledge and understanding, and innovative interventions.

He has worked collaboratively with colleagues from other disciplines and a range of health workers. The principles and methods embodied in this approach have led to a proof–of-concept tablet-based IPC training tool for health professionals.

The research is currently being further developed in the form of a digital training tool to address AMR in veterinary practice settings.

Alastair says: “It’s a huge honour, particularly for design as a field to be represented in the shortlist. It also reflects the good faith of the many colleagues with whom I’ve worked in the healthcare disciplines and who…have been trusting and willing enough to take a risk and to explore new territory together.”

Life of Breath

Professor Jane Macnaughton, Durham University

The Life of Breath (LoB) project is directed jointly by Jane Macnaughton, Professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University and Professor Havi Carel, a Philosopher at the University of Bristol and is funded by a Senior Investigator Award from Wellcome.  LoB is an interdisciplinary medical humanities project involving anthropologists, literary scholars, philosophers, artists and historians working with people with breathlessness and clinicians.  Its purpose is to open out a deeper understanding of the experience of breathlessness by exploring it across these different disciplines separately and collaboratively. 

Currently in its fourth year of five, the project takes a critically engaged approach to breathlessness, seeking to interact with those affected in their own communities rather than in clinical spaces, to reveal the authentic stories of these ‘invisible’ lives.

‘Invisibility’ has emerged as a central concept in the project, engaging and connecting the disciplines involved.

The project’s outcomes will be to contribute to the sparse literature on the cultural story of breath and breathlessness; and to offer new approaches to management.

Jane says: “What started for me as a desire to see medical humanities research applied to a symptom of the body rather than of the mind, Life of Breath has become an extraordinary exploration into the connection between the two, genuinely drawing upon the resources of the arts, social science, clinical science and experience to achieve this, and, I hope, developing some new ways of helping people with the distressing symptom of breathlessness.”

Essex Autonomy Project

Professor Wayne Martin, University of Essex

Wayne Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex, where he directs the Essex Autonomy Project — a multidisciplinary research initiative focusing on the idea of self-determination, particularly in care contexts (psychiatric care, elder care, social care, etc.).  Educated both in the UK (Cambridge) and the USA (Berkeley), Martin taught for 12 years at UC San Diego before joining Essex in 2005.  

His research in the medical humanities has been funded both by the AHRC and by Wellcome.  Among Martin’s most important research contributions have been a series of ground-breaking collaborative interdisciplinary clinical studies of decision-making in the context of serious mental disorder. A paper on decision-making capacity following frontal lobe brain injury recently appeared as a target article in Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, following an earlier paper published in The Journal of Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

A second major area of Martin’s research concerns the application of evolving international human rights standards to mental health and mental capacity law, both across the UK and around the world.  Martin’s research in this area has been introduced as evidence in a case before the UK Supreme Court, translated into Spanish by members of the Law Reform Commission of Peru, and presented to a UN Committee providing guidance on disability-rights.  In 2014 he led a team that provided technical research support to the Ministry of Justice in developing a legal opinion as to whether the Mental Capacity Act (England and Wales) complies with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  He currently serves on the Equality and Human Rights Topic Group providing support to the Government-commissioned Independent Review of the Mental Health Act (‘the Wessely Review’).

Hearing the Voice

Project postcard of HtV led by Professor Charles Fernyhough and Dr Angela Woods of Durham University

Hearing the Voice (HtV) is a large interdisciplinary research project that is changing the way people understand the experience of hearing voices.

Hearing voices is an important aspect of many people’s lives. It is an experience that can be distressing and upsetting, but also positive and meaningful. The project examines voice-hearing from a range of different perspectives, including anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, history, linguistics, literary studies, medical humanities, philosophy, psychology and theology. It involves researchers from all three faculties of Durham University, along with voice-hearers, clinicians and academics from national and international partner institutions.

In addition to shedding light on the relations between hearing voices and everyday processes of sensory perception, memory, language and creativity, we are exploring why it is that some voices (and not others) are experienced as distressing, how they can change across the life course, and the ways in which voices can act as important social, cultural and political forces.

Hearing the Voice is funded by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award in Humanities and Social Sciences until 2020. HtV situates the arts and humanities at the centre of an interdisciplinary research programme that has achieved significant outcomes.

The project has also produced the world’s first major exhibition on hearing voices, three short films exploring lived experience of psychosis, a radio play, anthologies of poetry and short fiction.

On being shortlisted, Professor Charles Fernyhough and Dr Angela Woods said: “We’re delighted to have been nominated for the inaugural Health Humanities Medal for Best Research. The nomination reflects the outstanding work of our large interdisciplinary research team in transforming the way we understand the experience of hearing voices, but it also speaks to the influence our project has had in helping shape what the medical and health humanities as a field can achieve.”

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