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Please note: if you are studying TU811 the contents of this blog should not be favoured above a detailed reading of the module material and assessment information and advice from your tutor.

 The OU module TU811 Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change introduces the concepts ‘area of practice’ and ‘situation of interest’.  I studied this module in 2010 and I now have the privilege of being an associate lecturer on that same module.  The other evening I told my group of students that – with hindsight – I didn’t really ‘get’ the concept of ‘area of practice’ when I did the module and tried to explain why.

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My blog doesn’t get a massive number of visitors, but in the last couple of days I’ve noticed an increase in hits on some of my oldest blogs – the first ones I did as I studiously studied Tu812 Managing systemic change.  Today’s busiest post – Taking a design turn in my systems practice – was written on 16 January 2011.  That means that at this time in 2010 going into 2011 I was just grappling with the idea of the design turn for the first time.  It was ‘that winter’, the one with really really heavy snow.  I remember gazing out the window as slabs of snow slid down from the roof, enjoying the distraction from reading about the juggling balls and design turns.

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I find it suprising that academics are really strong advocates of ‘evidence based practice’ and seek to account for and justify every methodological design decision they make, but don’t seem to apply the same standard to the ‘project methodologies’ they tell/require their PhD students to use to manage a research ‘project’. Read more »

In the last few weeks I’ve been appointed as an associate lecturer (aka tutor) for the Open University.  I am going to be tutoring on TU811 “Thinking strategically: systems approaches for managing change” which I studied myself back in 2010.  My studying of TU811 preceded the launch of Just Practicing so I may end up blogging about the approaches as I re-discover the module materials – backfilling a gap in this blog!

Since I’ve been appointed I’ve been on induction – induction at a distance given that it is the OU.  It’s involved reading and watching short video clips about my duties and responsibilities, trying to master the ‘tech’ I will need to use, and, becoming familiar with procedures and resources.

I’ve realised that I am entering into a new (to me) ‘community of practice’ – Read more »

It’s funny how it is so easy to take a phrase – in this case ‘policy analysis’ –  for granted and assume you get what it means, but then the minute you start reading about it you doubt yourself.  I’m getting tied in knots about how to parse the phrase (a bit like second hand japanese car salesman.  Is it about second hand japanese cars? or a japanese salesman?).

Okay so this is my meandering about policy analysis and phrases that build on it. Read more »

I’ve finally got round to reading a book I have had for a while – the second edition of Beryl Ralin’s book ‘Beyond Machiavelli’.  The first 2000 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis comes of age’ and the second 2013 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis reaches midlife’.  It is entirely US based and traces the evolution of the policy analyst profession from its inception in 1960s american policy project to the present day.  There’s lots in there that I am mulling over, but I couldn’t move on without noting linkages with ‘systems analysts’ – another US profession that kicked off in the 1960s.  As Ralin says:

The imperatives of war had stimulated new analytic techniques – among them systems analysis and operational research – whose users sought to apply principles of rationality to strategic decision making (p.14) Read more »

I have just packaged up the third iteration of all the materials for research ethics – subject to final supervisor ‘tweaks’ they are done (hooray).  This means that the research proposal I first attempted last july and amended and re-drafted ever since is now ‘done’.  But I didn’t want to move on without posting some reflections on writing an action research proposal.

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When we use systems to help us understand the busy, messy world of human activity, we are in effect drawing a boundary.  We identify some things that are ‘in’ our ‘system of interest’ and that means other things are outside it i.e. not a focal part of our interest.  We do this whether we realise it or not – the problem is, if we are not being explicit about our choice of boundaries then we blur them for ourselves and other people.  Then we get confused and conflicted.

Take for example, the NHS planning guidance published in December 2015.  The word system is used in it a lot – it is all about ‘the system’ but here are some insights into my thoughts as I read it…

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The minute I wrote that title, I realised that in a strict sense it is a little back to front.  We all know that our choice of research methodology should follow the definition of our aims, objectives and research question – form should follow function!  At least that is what the text books say.

But I’ll readily confess that I became a research student because I wanted the opportunity to learn more about and experience action research – others do that too for example some embark on a PhD because they want to home their quantitative data analysis skills.  So the ‘search’ for a research question and defining aims and objectives is also informed by the sort of knowledge, skills and experience I want to develop through my PhD and ultimately the sort of researcher I want to be.

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I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Researching with integrity‘ by Bruce Macfarlane.  The book starts out by critiquing usual rule-based codes of ethics in research which have been derived from bioethics.  It goes on to suggest that a focus on moral virtues can be helpful to a range of academic disciplines.  Crucially, virtues need to be lived out (in spite of the complexities, dilemmas and tensions that arise) on an every day basis.  They are not just words to be repeated as a mantra or a checklist to adhere to.

Integrity in research then is a set of virtues and Macfarlane spends the book unpacking what virtues (and associated vices) are important to integrity in research.  It paints the image of navigating a balancing act – avoiding the vices associated with extremes whilst remaining true to the virtues.

There is a table (on page 42) which lists six virtues each of which comes to the fore at a different ‘phase of research’.  I’ve adapted the table slightly to include below:

Virtue Associated Vice (when in deficit) Associated Vice (when in excess)
Courage Cowardice Recklessness
Respectfulness Manipulativeness Partiality
Resoluteness Laziness Inflexibility
Sincerity Concealment Exaggeration
Humility Boastfulness Timidity
Reflexivity Dogmatism Indecisiveness

Needless to say I am finding the book useful as a ‘novice’ researcher, struggling with the structure and expectations of research ethics committee.  But the book also led me to wonder whether the idea of virtues (and its associated vices) could be applied to other professional practices.


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