On the practice of literature review

In the last few days, I have been in an email exchange with some other PhD students about literature review.  The conversation made me realise how much my understandings of what this is have changed over the course of my PhD journey as I have drawn on both my tradition of systems thinking and literature about literature review.

Continue reading

Food shopping in an uncertain world

Like many people, I have been shocked at the problems created by panic buying of food supplies.  But I’ll also confess I have perhaps followed it more than others because my brother (Prof Richard Wilding) is a supply chain specialist and is being interviewed and quoted on the problems.

Whilst there are the really extreme cases that we see of people buying up (sometimes with a view to sell on) huge volumes of in-demand products, I suspect that everyone is putting a little bit more in their shopping baskets.  All these small changes do add up – they add up to empty shelves and less supplies for those who can only shop weekly due to finances and/or ability to carry or store large volumes of food.

So what should I do?  Should I adapt my food shopping for an uncertain world, and if so what is reasonable and ethical?

I’ve realised that I can’t adapt unless I examine what I do now – how do I go about managing the larder (including fridge and freezer)? Or, what do I do when I do what I do? Continue reading

Evidence in support of a claim

Toulmin (cited in Hart,1998; Wright, 2012) developed a model of an argument that I find really helpful in thinking about what is important when I am trying to argue a point or convince someone about something.  (if this is new to you I’d highly recommend the youtube video in the reference list – Wright, 2012).

Whilst there are lots of different elements in the model, the key idea is that if you are to make a claim, then you should provide appropriate evidence to support that claim.  The other day, I was in a conversation which made me realise that ‘appropriate evidence’ can be quite a contested term – it means different things to different practice communities. Continue reading

My blog and me

I have had an email from wordpress which means I have to re-vamp my theme in order to keep a mobile version.  It’s made me think about my relationship with my blog and how I want to relate to it in the future.  It’s probably a good point to think about this.  It’s nearly 10 years since I set it up and whilst I used it loads between 2010 and 2012 to help me understand my learning on MSc Systems thinking in practice, I haven’t posted as much since then.  In fact, I haven’t posted for over a year now.

Continue reading

Praxis

It surprised me when I looked back that I have not written a blog on praxis before.  I was first introduced to it when I studied TU812 – the module that also led me to start blogging – so it is interesting that I haven’t ever used the blog to articulate my understanding of it.

I’ve arrived at that point now because I am currently doing a lot of reading on practice – or more precisely theories of practice.  You don’t go very far in that literature without starting to come across the word praxis.  Sometimes practice and praxis are used a little interchangeably, sometimes they are referred to as ‘practice/praxis’, but there are places where praxis and its distinctive meaning are explored in more detail.

Continue reading

The truth about…TV experiments

I have started to get concerned about shows such as ‘The truth about…’ and  ‘Twinstitute’.  I do enjoy watching the shows but I worry that viewers take away an oversimplified ‘health’ message based on a single experiment that is designed for ‘good viewing’ rather than necessarily good overall scientific practice.

In particular, I am thinking about experiments conducted on Truth about…fitness (shown a year ago but re-released recently on iplayer) and Twinstitute (first season showing now) which both compare the benefits of two different forms of exercise. Continue reading

What do I do when I do what I do (now)?

When I studied TU812 in 2010 and first attempted an answer to this question, my domain of practice was very different to what it is now.  Then I worked in local government and was engaged in policy development and partnership coordination.  Now, I spend the equivalent of my ‘working week’ engaged in the practices of ‘researching’ (doing my PhD) and ‘educating’ (as an Open University associate lecturer).

On and off for the last 6 months or so, I have been trying to construct a ‘claim’ for associate fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (via a scheme operated by the OU itself).  In essence this is a way of getting recognition for my teaching competences.  One of the main elements of the claim is a ‘reflective statement’ that needs to demonstrate the ‘why?’, ‘what?’, ‘how?’ of my practice in supporting adults to learn at a distance and any ‘so what?’ that arises from that reflection.  When I set out I thought that this would suit me down to the ground given how much I have written about my experiences and practices in the past.  But, I have experienced it as really constraining and at times annoying. I think I can understand why. Firstly, there are certain ‘buttons’ that I have to press in terms of the range of tasks I am involved in, the types of knowledge I use as I am doing so, and, how certain values guide me.  Secondly, there is word ‘guidance’ in essence a hint of how much material the assessment panel will want to read.  These constraints are making me focus so much on achieving an acceptable output that I am not enjoying it or getting any value (i.e. learning) from the experience. Continue reading

Zooming in on experience

When I think about it, the word ‘experience’ can be interpreted in different ways.  Google tells me that it is “practical contact with and observation of facts or events” (noun) but it is also a verb “to experience” meaning “encounter” or “feel”.  These definitions convey a sense of closeness – an experience is something that we see, touch, hear, feel – we use our senses and emotions when we ‘experience’.  We relate to an experience – it’s not something happening over there somewhere. Continue reading

Systems thinking in practice and running a marathon

On Sunday 7 October 2018, this moment happened.

Kielder marathon finish

It’s me at the finish line of the Kielder marathon – a marathon that involves a full circuit of the beautiful Kielder Reservoir in Northumberland.

It’s odd to say it but I can attribute my achievement in that moment back to my study of systems thinking.  When students start studying the TU812 module, there is an exercise in considering the personal trajectory leading up to the point of starting the module and what the student anticipates moving forward.  I would never have dreamed of putting ‘run a marathon’ in my trajectory beyond the module.  There are some things you don’t anticipate, don’t plan, but in retrospect you can appreciate how earlier events influence the achievement of later ones.

Continue reading

The practitioner and the situation

Recently I wrote a post on Situations which ended as follows:

But, in spite of all the commonalities, there is a distinction in the way that TU811 treats situations of interest compared to the way TU812 treats situations of concern…

In TU811, it is perfectly possible to adopt a first order stance – using systems approaches to analyse a situation of interest that you stand apart from. You can take the mindset of a consultant asked to advise or make recommendations to someone in government or in an organisation. It is possible to be objective and distant, to lack ownership of and for the situation. I say possible, you don’t have to engage with the situation that way but you can still engage pretty effectively as a systems practitioner if you do.

In comparison, when TU812 talks of situations of concern, they tend to be situations you experience directly – something you are part of. This means a first order stance is more constraining and it is more appropriate to adopt a second order stance. Here your personal engagement with the situation and the other people who are part of it matters. Your emotioning, understandings, actions and interactions can have an influence on whether the situation improves or declines. Your own action and interaction matters.

In the last few days, I have been reflecting on this in the light of closer reading of the work of Ison (2017) and various works by Checkland (e.g. 1985) which formed the basis for Ison’s conceptual model of what it is to think about practice.

The particular aspects I have been reflecting on are the way in which the practitioner and the situation can be perceived to relate to each other.

Continue reading