Reflections on Research – the pointy end of the funnel

At the halfway point of the year, and the 5-month point of my 12-month Fellowship, I thought it a good time to stop and reflect. (I have tried writing one of these posts at the 3-month and 4-month marks but became stuck. I hope this is not a metaphor for my Fellowship.)


After following the above tweet by Helen Bevan, to an article by “entrepreneur turned venture capitalist” Mark Suster, I discovered the “funnel framework” – a marketing model that seems a good fit of my Fellowship experiences so far.
I’m good at the grand(iose) idea aspect of any project, of networking and meeting, bringing together diverse groups – what Suster describes here as the “shiny and sexy” top end of the funnel.  The first six weeks of my Fellowship were a flurry of meetings with all sorts of folk, local and national (clinicians, academics, quality and safety, administrators, managers, peak bodies, etc). I attempted to fulfil my Change Day pledge to build bridges between health care silos (which I continue to do, although the “consumer” silo remains largely elusive outside of my clinical role).

The middle of the funnel, “validation and ownership”, was fairly easy to achieve. My broad research topic is advance care planning (ACP) and, as people keep telling me, “it’s a hot topic”…”everyone’s jumping on the ACP bandwagon.” ACP has already been identified as a priority by the national health service accreditation standards and, therefore, the local health services.

It’s the bottom end of the funnel that poses problems. The “insane focus on 1k things to make idea a reality“. That’s where I am now and sometimes it is difficult to see that I’ve made any progress at all, or achieved any tangible benefits this year. I have to look back at my weekly lists of “things to do” and “things achieved” to remind myself that the last five months have been worthwhile.

So, how have I progressed?

  • completed a report for an audit I started last year. Along the way, I exponentially increased my knowledge of clinical audit, the audit cycle and quality improvement. This will assist with my current project in addition to quality improvement work for (I hope) the rest of my clinical career;
  • became a “Certificated Change Agent” of the School for Health and Care Radicals (SHCR), after completing a 5-week online course. I have gained invaluable knowledge and skills through this course, as well as finding a community of health and care change agents internationally and locally (such as the #SHCRANZ monthly tweetchats that have continued even after our “graduation”). This is also highly relevant to my current project;
  • completed a Quality Improvement MOOC, QI FUNdamentals. Again, this has vastly improved my knowledge and skills regarding quality improvement in health care, and allowed me to lead some QI activities within my own department. This is also highly relevant to my ACP project;
  • written a research protocol, with the assistance of my supervisor. I had previously only written one research protocol (for a study that received ethics approval but I since abandoned), so this was an excellent experience;
  • written and piloted a survey, again with assistance from my supervisor. As well as the academic aspect, this also includes gaining skills in SurveyMonkey;
  • navigated my hospital’s online application and reporting system for quality improvement projects, with some assistance from the Quality and Safety department; and
  • attended several conferences, workshops, lectures and webinars (more than would have been possible were I in my usual clinical role), with an accompanying improvement in knowledge, skills, attitudes and networking. (I must be careful not to become a “conference ho“, also described by Suster.)
My most fulfilling achievements this year would have to be:

  • providing advice to other people starting out in research (particularly fellow RACP Advanced Trainees), connecting them with relevant resources and potential supervisors, and watching their projects progress; and
  • providing advice to people from other health services who wish to implement ACP policy and QI projects.
I hope this post doesn’t seem self-adulatory. Its intention is to provide some focus and motivation to get on with the “pointy end of the funnel”, and prove to myself (and anyone reading) that when you’re wondering whether you’ve wasted half a year, you’ve probably achieved more than you first think.

Can anyone else relate to this funnel model in their research work? I would love to hear about it.

Elissa Campbell (@Elissa_Campbell) is currently working as a Palliative Care Fellow, researching advance care planning. Her research is funded by the Health Department of Western Australia (WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network)

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Research – the pointy end of the funnel

  1. Great post, Elissa. You certainly have achieved a lot over the past 5 months and should feel very proud of your progress.

    I can relate to the way you described questioning your progress. I know that whenever I feel things aren’t going my way or I experience a setback in my research, a review of the tasks that I have seen through to “the pointy end of the funnel” helps restore my confidence and provides new energy. When it comes to limiting distraction from activities at the top and middle part of the funnel, I remind myself that my goal is to conduct research that produces useful findings and use that goal to filter out time-zappers.

    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Hi Elissa,
    Thanks for the post. This is such an important issue which I think you (and the blog you cite) articulate clearly. Closing/finishing/completing the work is certainly one of the hardest, and least commended parts of the cycle. Like Bridget I would say it seems like you have closed off a lot during your 5 months. I find it helpful to make sure that I split the big work into smaller sections (at least as a mental process ) which means that the closing acts are easier to achieve and easier to identify.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michael. Sometimes I feel like my life is a series of unfinished projects but, as the saying goes (and quoted by Aerosmith), “life’s a journey, not a destination”. I’m sure most people feel the same way (I hope).


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