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START Center

Reaching Across Campus and Beyond: START’s Engagement with Subject Matter Experts

Reaching Across Campus and Beyond: START’s Engagement with Subject Matter Experts

Collaboration and teamwork are pillars of the START Center model and essential to producing high-quality work. A major benefit of being part of the University of Washington community is the immense content knowledge available. In order to bolster content expertise on projects, START often reaches across campus to engage with subject matter experts (SMEs).

START engages subject matter experts when a project team’s more generalized knowledge of a topic requires additional support. Subject matter experts may be engaged for the duration of a START project or participate in a one-time meeting to lend their expertise. The primary responsibility of an SME is to offer content-specific guidance to project teams and support the team in making decisions regarding the direction of a project. SMEs add value to START teams in a variety of ways, including providing suggested research areas, attending regular meetings, making connections, reviewing deliverables, and giving interviews.

Over the years, START has worked with numerous subject matter experts. Most recently, Dr. Scott Ickes and Assistant Dean Adam Sherman contributed their expertise to two START projects.

START engaged Dr. Scott Ickes, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Services and core faculty in the Nutritional Sciences Program at UW, as an SME for the Nutrition Data, Analytics, and Evidence project. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked the START Center to review and compare nutrition data and indicators collected from large household surveys, identify descriptions of the collection of nutrition data in country-owned health management information systems in published and grey literature, and review and compare global nutrition databases. Throughout the duration of the 5-month project, Dr. Ickes provided the team with extensive knowledge in nutrition research. Specifically, he shared his knowledge of nutrition indicators, which was incorporated into the project’s nutrition data survey. He supported the team by providing feedback on interim deliverables, sharing opinions on the future direction of nutrition research, and ensuring the team was aware of the large body of indicators and resources within the Nutrition space. The START team, comprised of Lola Arakaki, Dylan Green, Andrew Kwist, and Dr. Jennifer Slyker, enjoyed working with Dr. Ickes and valued his participation. Of his experience with the START team, Dr. Ickes reports, “I really liked working with the team. It was very high-level and high functioning. Everyone worked really well and it was a very professional process.”

Adam Sherman, the Assistant Dean of Institutional Studies and Academic Services at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, was engaged as a subject matter expert for the Policy Tracker Project. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked START to develop a Policy Tracker Prototype to assist their policy advocacy activities in priority countries.  Asst. Dean Sherman, an expert in data visualization and Tableau, worked closely with Brian Conley, Danae BlackDiana Tordoff, Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, and Jennifer Lenga-Long to provide guidance on how to overcome complex challenges to help design and improve their Tableau-based tool. With Asst. Dean Sherman’s input, the Policy Tracker team successfully delivered high-quality Tableau-based dashboards to track the state of policies in priority countries. In describing his experience with the START team, Asst. Dean Sherman explains, “The team was great and I loved working with them. They are super competent.”

Involving subject matter experts is an opportunity to collaborate with experts at the University of Washington, as well as external organizations, to bolster and add value to START projects. Including SMEs on START project teams introduce a diversity of skills and contributes to the ongoing success of our work.

If you are interested in contributing to a START project as a subject matter expert, please complete a statement of interest here.