A ‘triggered’ thought

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I just need to reflect a little on a conversation I had at work today.  I am sure there is something in there that affects my research ideas but need to unravel it.

I was having a conversation with someone about the ‘shift’ that is going on at work – from the ‘structural’ perspective of a partnership to the ‘process’ perspective of partnership working.

It was only two years ago that we were ‘building a structure’ and trying to consolidate the way it (the structure) worked – as an accountability arrangement with some ‘hierarchy’ in it, so it seemed ‘odd’ to this person that we were now turning away from that and advocating a whole new perspective of partnership working.

The person asked me ‘why the shift?’.  I gave some reasons off the top of my head – people found the meetings ‘unproductive’; people had less staff to ‘serve’ on these committees – as well as there being less resource to service them; the ‘committee style’ seems to stifle proper dialogue; and, when we look back at some of the ‘best’ things we have done, they have not happened in those meetings.  And finally, I said there is now research to suggest that hierarchical approaches have limitations when working with ‘wicked issues’ and academics are suggesting that we need to embrace new ways of leading, coordinating and governing partnership working for wellbeing and health.  I mentioned the WHO study and the papers of David Hunter from Durham University.

The friendly but challenging conversation continued – but how do we know this ‘new way’ works any better?

You could interpret that question in two ways – how do we know people will work better in partnership? or, how do we know that this will improve wellbeing and health (and reduce health inequalities)?

I didn’t really have an answer to either of those questions.  I’ve got as far as (1) the old ways creates constraints (2) this new way is theory-based and seems to resonate with me (3) let’s try and get us there.

I’m sure I’ve read case examples of small scale ‘projects’ but the timescales over which we need to think about ‘change’ are vast….. I can draw on history – it was social movements (people taking purposeful action together) that got women the vote and civil partnerships introduced.  Social change made slavery get abolished and, more recently, changed the social acceptability of drink-driving and smoking.

But at a very basic level, how do I know that me ‘running a dialogue-based workshop’ rather than ‘servicing a board meeting’ will create better sustainable ripples towards the large scale social change we are talking about.  It certainly ‘feels’ more productive and energising and I think people go away ‘feeling’ more part of concerted action – but do I ‘know’ that?  It is more than a ‘hunch’ because it is theory-driven – but the ‘theory’ is not the same as that from a positivist paradigm when you can use it to ‘predict’ the outcome (even the nature of ‘outcomes’ get questioned in this paradigm).

So could my research be some sort of ‘hypothesis testing’ that the ‘new ways’ works.  How could I do that in such a short timescale?  What is testable?  As many people are so uncomfortable with uncertainty and unpredictability, will they just simply state they ‘prefer’ the old way – as working in the old paradigm seems to give an illusion of control?

This is one to bear in mind.

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