Decipher my Data: Flu

Project aims:

I’m a Scientist, Decipher my Data aims to provide real scientific data for use by secondary schools and teachers through online engagement. The first experiment - Flu! - investigated a possible correlation between illness absenteeism at schools and the proportion of positive influenza samples taken by sentinel General Practices. The aim was to find out if school absence data can detect national flu peaks early.


The objectives of Decipher my Data’s Flu project were to create a project easy for teachers and students to get involved in that delivers a real benefit to science; to involve 100 schools and over 2,000 students; to create 200 interactions between the science team and the schools; and to have 75 schools reporting their results.

Summary of activity:

The project was funded through a Wellcome Trust People award and was brought together by the team behind I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! with teacher Declan Fleming and UCL Academic Clinical Fellow Dr Rob Aldridge. The project didn’t meet the objectives listed above – only 34 schools gained consent for the project and 18 uploaded data to the project website. There was no influenza outbreak over the winter of 2011/12, so it was not possible to test the project’s hypothesis.

Evaluation approach:

The evaluation process included monitoring participation and web use, carrying out a pre-project teacher e-survey and post-project teacher e-survey and phone interviews, interviewing project team members near the start of the flu season and having debrief discussions with the project team after the flu season. An external evaluator led the post-project teacher e-survey and phone interviews.

What went well:

1. There was a strong demand from teachers for projects and resources in the area of data analysis and therefore a very strong level of initial interest from teachers

2. Flu is a good subject because it is familiar and relevant to students

3. There was goodwill in the feedback from teachers

4. The project team had great expertise and commitment

5. Teachers who used the resources noted that students had a better understanding relating to How Science Works and an interest in taking part in a real research project

What was learned:

1. There is tension between medical research, which is usually anonymous, and public engagement, which is about openness

2. We underestimated the level of complexity required for the website

3. We launched the project late and were late clarifying the offer to teachers - lengthy involvement from teachers is needed and this should be taken into account in future

4. It was difficult for students to be involved

Top tips and advice for others

1. It is important to make very clear to schools what the project is about, and what will be involved and when

2. Keep things simple - we could have removed some of the non-vital elements such as an outbreak investigation and ‘ask a scientist’

3. Try to increase the level of openness, making the consent process less onerous and allowing teachers and students to share their ideas with others

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