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Organising England-wide Data Collection for an International Study: My Reflections

From March-November 2021, I took on the role of National Lead for May Measurement Month (MMM), an international hypertension screening campaign led by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH).

It feels like such a long time ago but now that the campaign has ended (and I have more time to write), I wanted to share my reflections on the role because I think I learned a lot from it - hope you enjoy reading!

What did the role involve?

The local medical research society is in charge of organising the campaign each year in England. My role involved setting up teams in cities across England to measure the blood pressures of participants. For this, I sent out a bunch of emails to academics at universities and organisations that could help e.g. local research/cardiology societies to get them interested in being involved. Once a site was confirmed, I supported local leads to set up their stalls. One of my highlights in this role was that I worked with a team member to build a starting resource pack containing useful information to set up MMM locally! This streamlined the onboarding process for new teams and answered the commonly asked questions, which saved us a lot of time.

Usually the campaign runs during May each year hence the name “May Measurement Month”, but the 2021 campaign ran from May-November to allow more time for data collection due to the pandemic.

My Thoughts

In short, this was a tough role. The pandemic meant that the campaign did not happen the year before so I didn’t get a proper handover from the people who had experience running the campaign. We lost touch with previous local leads and our usual venues e.g. local hospitals were unable to get involved due to visiting restrictions. This made me feel like we were starting from scratch and thankfully, I was working with a good group of team members which made things slightly better.

I think I got to experience things from two perspectives: one as a leader supporting local leads remotely and one as a team member being led by the individual representing the ISH. Personally, I would’ve felt more invested in the work if there was more correspondence from the local organiser in England. I felt like I was working in a vacuum so this is something I have tried to prevent happening, both as a National Lead for MMM and in my other leadership roles. I am more conscious of ensuring that we provide team members with regular updates on the “big picture'' view of the work we are doing so they feel more invested in it and thus, more keen to support.

I sent out over 100 emails about MMM to people and I can definitely say that my email etiquette has improved by leaps and bounds! It’s a very fine balance trying to be persuasive and friendly, yet firm enough to follow up with people and move the agenda forward.

What I have learned

  1. Future-proof your work. I learned this the hard way when I took on the role without much material to help such as a list of useful contacts, email/document templates and a proper handover.

  2. I will say this again, but please HAVE A PROPER HANDOVER. I learned this through MMM and other roles - it’s actually painful to get things started if your predecessor just tells you “oh, the role is very straightforward.” I think a proper handover would include a useful list of contacts, information on what was done previously and more. My next post will be on having a good handover so keep your eyes out for that!

  3. Persistence can pay off. I managed to get a team started in Newcastle simply because I sent a follow up email to one of the societies there when they replied to my initial email.

  4. Consider the “newbie’s” perspective - what would they want to find out? How can I make things easier for them? This was what led to us creating a starting resource pack for our local leads because each team had similar queries when they first got started with MMM. Having this information in one place made things more efficient for us as the organising team and ensured that everyone was on the same page.

Overall, I think my experience with MMM was made more challenging with the pandemic + associated restrictions (and I hope things do start getting better). If you are interested in getting involved with MMM 2022 whether this is as a National Lead, Local Lead or volunteer, please feel free to get in touch with me!

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