As a tech entrepreneur I have always been fascinated by the why? Why does it or doesn’t it work? Why are we doing it? Why not? Why does our customer want it? I usually leave the “how” in the capable hands of talented engineers. That being said, I am fascinated by the systems and processes that people and organisations use to solve problems and get results. I, like many of my colleagues, believe that technology can solve many of the problems we face at work and in life.

Recently I have had the privilege of working with academic researchers on a range of projects and I have received a crash course in the various processes involved with research studies including, creating the project milestones and objectives, running focus groups, developing questionnaires, recruiting for studies, implementing and evaluating studies, analysing data, and publishing results.

The amazing thing I have observed is that these processes are still often driven manually or with disparate tech solutions cobbled together with mixed results. For example I have seen many researchers still hold live focus groups to get input and validation on study questions or content. I have also seen researchers push Excel spread sheets into the realm of project management platforms and data tabulation. I ask my learned friends, “Where is the automation?” I usually get a series of answers to this question. “I use email and text messaging in my studies.” “I couldn’t get something like that through an ethics committee or IRB!” “We have always done it this way.” “It is a part of the research process to uphold the rigor of the study.” Bullshit!

The truth is changing process in a world where the current process is sacred can be difficult. First of all it requires one to ask why, “why is it done this way?” Then it requires people with enough drive and foresight to seek change and source new technology, and if technology companies aren’t delivering then challenge them to do better or create your own solution. Don’t settle.

The digital revolution is here. Automation could improve efficiency of research studies without sacrificing efficacy and rigour. Virtual focus groups, recruiting participants on mobile platforms via social media, and app-based interventions are all available now. Why? Because they work. They deliver and if academics allow the change the results will be amazing.

Steve Huff

Steve Huff is the Co-founder and CEO of iPug a digital health company specializing in technology solutions for research and public health. iPug is based in San Francisco.

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