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This is one of those blogs I have to get out of my head….that means it isn’t going to be full of references that back up my thoughts, I just need to round them up so that I can be more structured in taking them forward.

It’s prompted by the idea of the ‘ideal’ type – a normative standard against which we compare things.  Often ‘ideal’ types get understood as prescriptions…and also sometimes we start thinking that things actually do happen according to those ‘ideal’ types (which is dangerous!).

So as I’ve been looking into policy making, I’ve started to realise that we have a number of ‘ideals’ as to what it ought to be like.  I’m going to brain-dump them here…

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This is one of those blogs that I am starting with no way of knowing where it will go.  It follows on from my recent post on practising systematic reviews systemically.  It was prompted by re-reading an old post on the ‘design turn’ (which my blog stats tell me someone looked at today – if it was you, thanks 🙂 ).  So, I’ve re-opened Ison (2010) to the two-page long section on ‘Systemic Inquiry and the ‘Design turn’ (pages 260-262).

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I’ve just realised that my post from early february on Discovering a landscape of research practice can provide effective insights into my current struggles and tensions about systematic reviews (discussed in my last post).  I’ve yet again gotten bogged down into the need to construct typologies or categories – this time of systematic reviews.  But my ‘aha’ moment – Instead I can choose to think of a landscape of literature review practices – with communities of reviewing practitioners identifying with each other, with certain questions/tasks to do and with certain ways of answering those questions/doing those task drawing on existing literature as ‘data’.

So whether you are concerned with ‘does x work for y condition for z population?’ or ‘what is known about the phenomenom a?’ or ‘what are the problems/gaps with the existing literature around q?’, you can belong somewhere in this landscape and identify with different sets of practitioners at different times.  New practices emerge from critiques or problems with existing ones, new communities form around those new practices, boundary spanners move between them taking ideas from one place to another where they mutate.  The ‘old’ practices pick up practices from the ‘new’ ones or respond to the critiques made of them.  Technology such as research databases revolutionalise the opportunities.  It shifts, it changes, it diversifies – it isn’t fixed

Why didn’t I spot the read across before! Doh!

My current PhD module is on the research ‘technology’ of systematic reviewing.  This type of research study is a manifestation of the evidence-based practice movement driven by the desire to make sure that research informs practice and/or policy.  Systematic reviewing arose in the world of medicine as a way of drawing together the findings of different ‘Randomised control trials’ in order to come up with a better answer to whether the intervention x leads to an outcome y.  The method of systematic review was/is hailed as better than traditional literature reviews which were criticised for cherry-picking the studies that fit with what an author wants to say.  My own view is that the traditional literature review actually has a different purpose – to scope out existing research in an area to highlight the ‘niche’ for a proposed piece of research and as Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic (2014) eloquently argue can be undertaken just as rigorously.

Anyway, as I’ve gone through the module, I’ve begun to understand that the term systematic review now goes well beyond the original ‘what works’ review of the Cochrane collaboration.  There are a multitude of different approaches to identifying and synthesising both quantitative and qualitative information held in research literature underpinned by a variety of study designs – like other forms of research they arise from different epistemological perspectives and therefore approach the task in different ways in order to answer different types of questions.  There are now articles of systematic review methods leading to different typologies and a multitude of terms (see for example, Dixon-Woods et al, 2005; Gough et al, 2012; and, Grant and Booth, 2009) and more that focus on different ‘stages’ of the review process especially synthesis (see Barnett-Page and Thomas, 2009).

As I near the end of the module, I’ve started to wonder about the degree to which systematic reviewing can be undertaken systemically.  The systems practitioner in me is rearing its head! As Ray Ison once said to me – “research is a practice too” – words which I directly hold responsible for me doing a PhD in the first place [depending on the day I am having that may be blame or gratitude!]

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As  someone who likes to read into language and discourse, I’ve been thinking recently about the different ways in which the relationship between wellbeing and health on the one hand and work on the other is framed.  Sadly I don’t have time to do a ‘proper’ study to see whether others are saying this or to reference back to all the sources that are leading me to these understandings, but this is where my day to day observations and reflections are leading me.

I see three different types of ‘framing’ going on…for convenience I have named them….

  • wellbeing and health in order to work
  • wellbeing and health at work
  • wellbeing and health through work

So here are my explanations…

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Not got much time but I don’t want to lose this one…

The Journal of Public Health Policy have just published a ‘Special Section’ on “What is health?” with the editors intro entitled “What do we mean when we use the word health?

The special section centres on an open access article by Bircher and Kuruvilla (2014) introducing the Meikirch Model of Health.  The model offers up a particular definition of health:

Health is a state of wellbeing emergent from conducive interactions between individuals’ potentials, life’s demands, and social and environmental determinants

This definition:

  • resonates with me – ’emergent from conducive interactions’ reminds me of my own post from ages ago now on A systems perspective on health and wellbeing which talks about interactions and emergence.
  • throws up intrigue – ‘is a state of wellbeing’ connects me to my recent post on Conceptions of wellbeing – if health is ‘a’ state of wellbeing what other states of wellbeing are there? or is health the only state of wellbeing? It strikes me that you could swap the words ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ over ‘Wellbeing is a state of health…’ and still get people nodding their heads wisely.
  • and questions – the abstract also mentions lifecourse approach – so is it a ‘state’ or ‘dynamic’?

Overall I quite like it.

Unfortunately the commentary offered by other authors in the Special Issue aren’t open access and Lancs Library isn’t a subscriber.  Trying to source.

However high we climb in the pursuit of knowledge we shall still see heights above us, and the more we extend our view, the more conscious we shall be of the immensity which lies beyond.

Sir William George Armstrong

I was reminded of this quote just now as I did a final word count check on my last assignment for my first academic year of my professional doctorate.  The word count came in at the perfect number and I am happy with the content – a product that is ‘submittable’ even though the deadline is still 4 days away.

I should be jumping for joy, heading out into the sun with glee but I feel a sharp sense of ‘oh, is that it?’.

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I feel the need to start this post with an acknowledgement of the gap since my last post.  Whilst I don’t pretend to think there are people out there missing my blogs – I’m more worried about the number of streams of thoughts I have had which have come and gone and are unrecorded.  It’s all because  I’ve been busy keeping up with the reading and discussion forum for my PhD modules – and the assignments.  I’ve also worked with two others to plan, design and facilitate the first ever Open University Systems Thinking in Practice alumni and friends get together – which was great.  The formal taught work for my PhD finished today, I’ve got one more assignment to do – and then hopefully can use the summer to consolidate some of the material I have covered through blogs.  It’s been a great journey, just haven’t had time to stop and take stock of it on the way.

Anyway, back to the real reason that I started blogging today.  It was prompted by a seminar I participated in last Monday.  Newcastle University, Sheffield University and NEF have got some funding to run a series of seminars on the ‘Politics of wellbeing‘.  It is essentially people from the discipline of political science coming together to consider what the discipline offers to the ‘shift’ towards wellbeing in policy and politics – both in a critical and a constructive way.  This seminar was the second in the series and I was asked to speak.

Preparing the talk led me to articulate and make explicit something that had been going on in the back of my mind for a long time. Read more »

My current PhD module is ‘Philosophy of research’.  On the one hand, I love it – finally a chance to get to grips with all that language associated with philosophy – epistemology, ontology, axiology and so on.  But I’ve also found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the endless list of ‘research paradigms’ and talk of stances and positions and the assumed direct (but really blurred) relationship with ‘methods’.  It’s not that I don’t understand it or ‘get it’, I’ve just found myself wondering what it is we are doing when we are distinguishing, labelling, categorising, and ultimately reifying research paradigms – and what is our purpose in doing so.

A couple of lines in one of my research text books (Robson, 2012) has led me into an interesting – I was going to say tangent, but that would mean I should go back – it’s a new interesting way of framing my understanding of the world of research

Robson (2012, page 27) states “In terms of research paradigms, a way forward is to be less concerned with ‘paradigms as philosophical stance’ and to adopt a notion of ‘paradigms as shared beliefs among groups of researchers’ (Morgan, 2007)”

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My last post – on the topic of evidence-based public health policy – made me start thinking about ‘policy’ and people’s conceptions of it.  Getting theoretical about policy-making is important stuff – if you understand a situation, understand what is going on, it is more likely that you can take purposeful action to influence it in a way you perceive as productive.  It is particularly important when advocating for ‘healthy public policy’ and for ‘participative policy making’.  The way you understand policy will affect what you understand to be the purpose of, and reason for, tools like health impact assessment; principles such as citizen engagement; and, policy positions such as the espoused view to have evidence-based policy.

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