My Research as an ‘event’ in a longer stream of inquiry

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My last post set me off on a stream of thought in relation to what I am doing in my research – is it inductive? is it deductive? is it emic? is it etic?  I’ve started to realise that it is best to think of these pairs in terms of dualities, rather than dualisms. Through the research, there is an interplay.  But also I realised that my Research Project (with a big R and big P) does not stand alone – it is located in a wider stream of inquiry and it’s location in time impacts on what it is and how I relate to it.

In summary,  what I have realised by thinking of my Research Project as an event in a longer stream of inquiry is that the journey of inquiry started in Dec 2010 with this blog – when I identified my situation of concern for a systemic inquiry (S2) in Part 2 of TU812.  What a weird emergent thing – my T847 research project got chosen all the way back there.  I’m prompted to think of Vickers ideas and consider how my appreciative system has evolved over the year or so, along with my views of the appreciated world.  It’s only just clicked that this ‘interest’ started way back then, has formed the motivation and purpose behind the Research Project.

So this is the ‘story of that inquiry’

To start with the appreciated world was annoying – why, I thought to myself, does no-one I work with have systems thinking skills.  It felt quite isolating and such a mountain to climb to ‘convert’ them all (cue the oft-referred to Elevator Pitch post)

But then my own studies of TU811/812 sensitised me in a different way.  And in particular as I studied TU812 and conducted the systemic inquiry into this situation of concern (see for example this post), I started to read the world in a different way.  I started to see that the way that some people talk or act is very consistent with systems thinking/practice, even if they themselves do not recognise it as such.  This is also a point made by Ray Ison.  This gave me a much more optimistic feel – “a narrative of hope” (to again draw on Ray Ison).  I started to see a huge potential capability – all this systems thinking capacity – constrained by the ‘accepted’ social technologies in our workplaces.

So this got me to the point of a pre-understanding or prejudice or inclination to think “people have natural systems thinking capabilities, they are just constrained by the current ways we do stuff”. This understanding made me ready to take systemically desirable and culturally feasible actions in the everyday flux of events – with the purpose of making improvements to the situation of concern. (In research language, that could be referred to as a proposition or even a hypothesis; but those words seem somehow too ‘strong’ and too positivist.  They are simply the understanding I had on which to base my actions.)

As I then started my work for T847, I read up (or should I say did a literature review!) on the importance of systems thinking both in ‘public health theory and practice’ and in ‘partnership working practice’.  The huge ‘call’ that is coming from published research – that essentially says – wellbeing and health is a wicked issue and if we are going to be fit for purpose in addressing that wicked issue we need ways of organising ourselves and ways of doing our work that are appropriate to that.  Systems thinking needs to underpin both our way of understanding wellbeing and health AND our ways of working to address this situation.  But at the moment, we don’t see ways of working that are consistent with Systems thinking, it is not going on.  Okay that is a huge paraphrase of the literature (see also this post and this post)

I was alright up to this point – it resonated very much with my own thoughts and I could see lots of parallels with the more climate change angle that Ray Ison comes from.  In fact at this point in the reasoning, I was celebrating – published research is backing up the point I have been trying to make in my workplace – I am not a lone voice.

But then came the clanger….. an implicit ‘prescription’ – therefore we need to train people (particularly leaders) in systems thinking (coming from people who do training and consultancy!!).  I didn’t like this – it jarred with my pre-understanding – treated it as an ‘absent competence’.  And also seemed like falling into a trap of reductionism – an easy ‘cure’ of training (after all that Systemsy stuff too).  This even annoyed me.

Drawing on this frustration – this problem I experienced with the literature – I wanted to ‘refute’ it somehow (argue back at it) but to do that I need to “strengthen” my own position – the basis from which I can argue.  And that is where my Research Project comes in.  An opportunity to more robustly or rigorously check my ‘pre-understanding’ – ‘am I really seeing what I think I see or is it wishful thinking?’.

So perhaps at the end of my Research Project, I’ll have a broader base on which to make a ‘claim’ – an empirically based challenge to what the literature seems to assume.  By making my own thoughts explicit and ‘evidence-based’, others can make judgements as to whether my claim is credible.  From there others can look for this too – with other people, in other places at other times.  I can also carry on with my own ‘informal’ observations with an increased set of sensitivities with what to look for. I can even use the fact I have done the Research as another angle to create discussion about it at work.

This story isn’t just a nice way to hang together my posts and show a thread between them, thinking about my Research as an event in a longer stream of inquiry also affects the way I relate to it.  For example, I can think of ‘triangulation’ over time, rather than within a single bounded, time limited study where I can only ‘triangulate’ between 10-15 talk samples.

But also Vickers key concepts makes me think differently about all that inductive or deductive; etic or emic.  As a ‘participant’, I am coming with theories – I am using those theories to inform my what, why, how of my analysis – I can’t avoid those theories influencing what I am doing, I am subjective, grounded in my tradition of understanding – they are all part of my appreciative system and the way I relate to the appreciated world.  The important bit is to be clear to others about those theories and how I am using them to orient myself in the process.

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