Doing research with busy doctors – an open space world

Family doctors are notoriously busy. Lack of their time is the number #1 barrier of doing anything outside their patient workload, including research. And yet, some enthusiasts get involved in the research endeavour, believing it can enhance primary care.

Knowing this, I looked for ways to do research with busy family physicians for my INVEST fellowship in Portland, OR. I needed to get them in one room and ask the group a couple of questions about their recent resident training initiative, SBIRT Oregon. The only time when my doctors were all in the clinic was right after another meeting. One of them suggested doing an open meeting technology. The phrase vaguely rang a bell with me.

‘Open space’ describes the process by which a wide range of individuals, in any organisation, can facilitate creative meetings around a complex theme of importance to all stakeholders 1. While a theme may be important to all stakeholders, they may have differing perspectives and responses, so this approach permits all voices to be heard and facilitates a process where stakeholders move from conflicting views to consensus. The approach has been widely used in commerce, religious communities, (non-)governmental agencies and war zones 2.

How did this work for us?

Our field ‘experiment’ lasted for about 90 minutes with two meetings in one room, right after each other. The meetings were unrelated, but 3/4 of the participants from the first meeting were scheduled for the second meeting too. I and my co-facilitator arrived well ahead of the first meeting. As doctors started to show up for the 2nd meeting – the 1st meeting was still in progress – some people were confused; others patiently listened to people talking at the 1st meeting. I found it very useful to sit on the 1st meeting and the transition to the 2nd meeting was much easier – all were in their seats already.

All in all, this set up had many advantages for multiple meetings with extra busy attendees. It can help solve problems and it works best with many people attending your meeting, but maybe it’s not ideal for research focus groups. A tip for a freshman facilitator: it’s amazing how much powerful an incentive for research can food be, especially pizza.

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1http://www.michaelherman.com/cgi/wiki.cgi
2http://www.openspaceworld.com/papers.htm