Adrian McConnell, Head of Charitable Operations, the CO Research Trust

What is a Sandpit? When we suggested holding a Sandpit event, many of our colleagues said they would wear shorts and bring a bucket and spade. Whilst this sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon, these events actually have a specific purpose.

Bucket and spade

A Sandpit event is a gathering of a group of people, often cross-disciplinary academics, researchers, and professionals, to discuss a problem within a particular subject area. Sometimes Sandpits take place over several days, other times it happens in a matter of hours.

The purpose of such events is to provide new ideas or to invigorate existing concepts or research. The idea being to provide structure and a timeframe in which to focus on generating new ideas - somewhat of a contradiction it might seem.

How do you force people to come up with their best ideas in a room at 9am on a rainy Tuesday morning? How can this possibly lead to the best new research ideas?

The CO Research Trust is a research charity and is proud to have worked with some of the brightest minds within the field of carbon monoxide research since 2005. We have worked with experts, Doctors, Professors, PhD students, established research professionals and institutions, all of whom have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since 2013 we have invested almost £3m in research projects and are committed to investing a similar sum over the coming years. You can find out more about our funded research here.

Our goal is to move forward the body of knowledge relating to carbon monoxide, in the right way. Delivering outcomes that will save lives and reduce the health and educational impacts from CO exposure.


It’s vital that we carefully think about how to do this. Forcing creativity seldom works. Staring at a blank piece of paper rarely leads to the best ideas.

Early studies considering the relationship between intelligence and creativity showed that highly creative individuals are also often highly intelligent (Barron, 1963, 1969; Getzels & Jackson, 1962) However, does it necessarily follow that highly intelligent people are very creative?

Creativity is needed to see beyond the present and to push boundaries. Some of the common challenges facing researchers are said to be lack of focus, getting stuck in a comfort zone, fear of taking risks and of failure, and even lack of relevant experience.

Fortunately, creativity is a natural process that can be nurtured, harnessed and cultivated, if approached in the right way.

In the world of carbon monoxide research, we are pleased to say we are not starting at the beginning. Our knowledge and understanding of the effects of carbon monoxide exposure has greatly improved over the last decade.

After years of investing in research projects, now is the time to reflect on what has been achieved and to consider what needs to happen next.

There are still many critical questions to be answered. For example, how do we improve the diagnosis of CO exposure when there is no reliable biomarker? How can better treatments and therapeutics be developed without a robust diagnostic process? How can we better understand the impact of CO exposure on vulnerable groups of people, particularly those with co-morbidities? And most importantly, how can we measure the scale of the problem of low-level chronic CO exposure?

To help us move forward to allow us to understand more about these specific areas, we have decided now is the time to evaluate, discuss and agree what the next steps should focus on. The Sandpit event will be a fantastic opportunity to do this.

Woman at whiteboard

One of the words frequently used to describe a Sandpit event is intense. For this reason, it is important to create the right environment and provide necessary support, in terms of breaks, refreshments, etc It’s not possible to dip in and out of a sandpit event. Participants must stay for the duration of the event.

There are several steps that need to be followed.

  • Create the time and opportunity for the thinking
  • Get the right people in the room - cross disciplinary researchers, academics etc
  • Have a leader to lead the discussion and set the agenda - someone who is independent and not considering a grant for a research project themselves
  • Need to frame / define the problem
  • Agree a common language and terminology
  • Agree the goal / outputs
  • Engage in difficult and uncomfortable conversations to drive lateral thinking and new approaches to research challenges
  • Record the thought process - take notes
  • Summarise and share the thinking
  • Turn sandpit outputs into a research project - ranging from several small projects to a single large research project - outcomes are not predetermined, but are defined during the sandpit

So, if you are currently engaged in or looking to undertake your next piece of research in this area, then we urge you to join us at the Sandpit on 6th July at Church House Conference Centre, Westminster, London.

Come and be part of the discussion around the future of carbon monoxide research and help us to continue to grow our knowledge and understanding of CO exposure.

Both the Research Conference on the 5th July and the Sandpit event on the 6th July (at the same venue) are free to attend, but delegates are required to sign up to register their attendance by Friday 27th May.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Ps – Just as a reminder, the Conference and Sandpit will focus on the themes below

  • Improved Diagnosis - A critical area of research. Given the limitations of carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) it is essential that a new biomarker is found to make diagnosis easier, to ensure that those who need treatment receive it, and to make sure that all cases of CO exposure are identified, so a true picture emerges. This may include the development of new techniques, improved patient pathways, and improvements in the application of technology.
  • Better Treatments and Therapeutics - To improve the treatments and therapeutics for CO exposure, we need to better understand the mechanisms of CO poisoning, to review and build upon current methods, and to further explore the increased susceptibility and specific risks associated with vulnerable groups and those with underlying health conditions.
  • Understanding Vulnerable Groups, Co-Morbidities and Health Outcomes from CO Poisoning - It is generally thought that the elderly, children, pregnant women (and unborn child), people living in fuel poverty, and people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to CO exposure. Similarly, it is important to understand the long-term outcomes of exposure on healthy individuals. To be able to develop policies and solutions to mitigate these risks, we need to increase our knowledge of the consequences of exposure.

    Adrian McConnell
    Adrian McConnell, Head of Charitable Operations, The CO Research Trust