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Let Them Eat Dirt: Using documentary as a method of knowledge translation

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CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Sarah Munro is leading a study to evaluate the use of video documentary as a means of knowledge translation (KT) related to microbes and early childhood development. The study is supported through the BC SUPPORT Unit Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science Methods Cluster.

The link between a child’s microbiome and their future health has been the focus of a significant amount of research in the past several decades. However, parents and caregivers are generally not aware of the scientific consensus and key recommendations from this body of research, which include avoiding overuse of antibiotics and hand sanitizers. New science suggests benefits from exposing newborns to vaginal and skin microbes after delivery.

Dr. Sarah Munro

The importance of exposure to microbes in early life was the focus of a 2016 book, entitled Let Them Eat Dirt, published by Drs. Brett Finlay (a microbiologist at UBC) and Marie-Claire Arrieta (University of Calgary). Building on its public popularity, Dr. Munro is investigating ways to extend the book’s message to a target audience of parents of young children.

“Packaging health evidence into entertaining, visual stories is an effective way to inform the public and encourage healthy behaviours,” said Dr. Munro “This is especially true for parents of young children, who increasingly watch video clips and films on-demand from their smart phones and computers.”

The parents that are particularly difficult to reach, and the focus of this study, are the “sandwich generation”: working adults in their 30s and 40s who are caregivers for both young children and aging parents, thereby sandwiched between work and family responsibilities. This group has very little time to consume health information but is an increasingly important public health audience
To improve the dissemination of microbe-related knowledge to this group, a full-length documentary was produced, which is set to be released on PBS in March (view the trailer here). The documentary will then be disseminated on social media and elsewhere in shorter, shareable segments that highlight key messages.

Is documentary the right method for KT?

“Our role is to identify, from the perspective of a parent, the best and most convenient way to consume information from a documentary and what information they need and want to make informed decisions,” explained Dr. Munro.

This KT research project has two aims that will be addressed during the development of the documentary (currently ongoing) and following its release.

The first component of the project aims to identify the appropriate format and messaging of supporting media aimed at parents of young children, which includes short video clips from the documentary or visual messaging shared via social media.

“By conducting interviews with parents of the ‘sandwich generation’,” said Dr. Munro “we are finding out what KT strategies work, for whom, and under what circumstances.”

So far, 25 parents have been recruited to participate in in-depth interviews to answer these research questions. Dr. Munro’s team also aims to identify potential secondary audiences for this type of intervention, such as grandparents and early childhood educators.

“The second part of this project will focus on the outcomes following the release of the documentary and on evaluating the mechanisms and factors that affect those viewers’ knowledge, behaviours, and beliefs,” said Dr. Munro.

“Ultimately, we want to know if documentary is a method of KT that researchers should invest in developing,” said Dr. Munro, “And, if so, what are the key ingredients of a documentary that delivers on our KT goals?”

A group effort

Collaborators for the study include Dr. Finlay, parent partners from BC and Saskatchewan, a media marketing specialist, the filmmaker and producer of the documentary (Rivkah Beth Medow), and three UBC PhD students in KT and implementation science.

The documentary will be premiered by the Peter Wall Institute (UBC) at Vancity Theatre on March 13th, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. The event will be open to the public. Stay tuned for information on tickets. Dr. Munro will be presenting about this project at the CHÉOS Work in Progress Seminar on January 30th.