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3 lessons I've learnt as an Ask for Evidence ambassador
- The power of empowering people to be critical
We are surrounded by new, contradictory information, constantly. Politicians, healthcare professionals, and even celebrities give us advice on the best way to live our lives. That advice seems to change, constantly. In order to navigate this world full of information we need to be able to question the evidence behind the headlines. The more empowered we feel about being sceptical, the more stakeholders will be held accountable for the information they provide. We will be on our way to a more transparent, evidence driven world. We will be able to make better decisions that speak to our values and what we care about.
- Start young
Disseminating the Ask for Evidence campaign has come in many shapes and forms: in science related pub talks, on top of a soapbox in the streets of Aberdeen, and by dressing up as Sherlock Holmes and teaching critical thinking skills to school children. One of the most important lessons I learnt: if you can, start young. Target school children and talk to them about the importance of not believing everything they read, of being sceptical about the information around them and consult different sources. You need to assess the quality of the evidence presented in order to form an informed opinion. Children are the future and so what we teach them will hopefully have long-term impact. Doing this work, along with colleagues at the Health Services Research Unit, has been one of the most rewarding parts of being an Ambassador: children’s excitement about learning new things, going on a Treasure Hunt for a Health Mystery and finding out not all evidence is created equally, solving the mystery by considering different sources of evidence and assessing their quality.
- Please evaluate
How do we know it is working? One of most valuable lessons of disseminating the campaign and doing public engagement activities related to it has been the importance of evaluating what we do. It allows us to assess whether we are making a difference and to improve each time we spread the message. Are people more aware of the importance of being critical and the tools available to help them do that? So far, we have reached 50,000 people from different communities around the UK. Around 1,200 people have used askforevidence.org to engage with researchers, police forces, hospitals, and journalists among others. Just in Aberdeen, I have personally engaged with over 500 people about critical thinking and the campaign. The evaluation has showed positive feedback and a raised awareness of the importance of being sceptical. There are things to improve and new avenues to explore, but there are certainly rewards and the hope that slowly we are building a more informed friendly world.
Beatriz became an Ask for Evidence ambassador in 2015 and is now helping support the new ambassadors.