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Inside The Phoenix Project: Sharing Statistical Methods With The University of Namibia

6 June 2016

As part of Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project, senior statistician and Research Design and Conduct Service (RDCS) consultant Dr Mark Kelson from the Centre for Trials Research has just returned from assisting the University of Namibia (UNAM) to consider its statistics needs and discuss how they might approach embedding methodology. Working in line with the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme, Cardiff University aims to strengthen the capacity of the University of Namibia, providing opportunities for shared learning and development across as many departments as possible: providing training, sharing educational resources, supporting staff, making student exchanges and providing information technology support.

Mark Kelson and Martina Perstling form the University of Namibia
Mark Kelson and Martina Perstling form the University of Namibia

It was while interrogating some data with Martina Perstling (a UNAM psychologist) that it happened. We were trying to understand why two datasets were not telling us the same thing, when I felt they should be. The respondents (UNAM students) were reporting they had no need of assistance, while their responses to other questionnaires indicated they did.  Martina explained that Namibian culture is about the community first and themselves last. These students were not describing themselves as in need, as they did not identify that they were any more in need than many others. They instinctively put others first, so they ticked the “no help required” box, while on other questionnaires similar students were describing that they routinely did not have enough to eat, or anywhere safe to sleep. It was an insight I found fascinating.

The lengths these students go to study medicine in UNAM are impressive. Some would travel from far away, to the capital, knowing no one and with little means of providing for themselves for the opportunity to study medicine. It is incredible.

With the Phoenix project, we can work with our UNAM counterparts to address some of these issues through shared working and collaboration. The UNAM staff are uniformly amazing in their commitment to improving things for their students through research and teaching and it is a real privilege to be able to contribute to that in some small way.

Over the past 5 days I have had meetings in many different departments, from Medicine, Social Science, Mathematics, Statistics and Population Studies, e-learning, Strategic Development and Planning, Public Health and the Multidisciplinary Research Unit.

Cardiff University staff en route to the University of Namibia. Dr Mark Kelson from the Centre for Trials Research, pictured far left.

While the conversations have been different there have been consistent themes coming through. The energy from UNAM staff, the willingness to share, and the passion for improvement have been present in every single meeting. This is at least in part, due to the level of senior UNAM management engagement with the project, which has been cultivated by Project lead, Prof Judith Hall and Phoenix manager, Nicola Pulman. The groundwork they have painstakingly laid to gain the trust of UNAM faculty and establish the credibility of the Phoenix project is paying dividends.

Statistics is an area where we can make a contribution because we are already making statistical methods a priority theme within the Centre for Trials Research; for example, our Director Kerry Hood recently was co-author on a published paper on mixed methods. The opportunity to contribute to the Phoenix project in a small way, and share this expertise, learn, listen and support colleagues there develop and begin to embed their own approaches was a fantastic experience.

– Blog contributed by Dr Mark Kelson

– Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkJKelson