Trustworthy knowledge

Following on from my last blog about the usefulness of big R research literacy to systems thinking in practice (and vice versa), this post is about the trustworthiness of ‘knowledge’ produced by research, whether that is the findings or particular recommendations (conclusions) arising from them.

I’ve written before about critiques of knowledge being viewed as a product or ‘thing’ and alternatives offered by different authors.  However, for the sake of this blog, I am not sure how far I will get without treating knowledge as if it is the more formal propositional, explicit knowledge that is presented in written form or in presentations.  So bear with me!

How my systems literacy helps me think about trustworthiness

an explanation does not exist in and of itself – it is a part of a social dynamic between an explainer, an explanation (the form of an explanation) and a listener or reader.

Ison (2017, p.9)

This quote from Ison (2017) is accompanied by a cartoon where one person is saying “This happens because….” and a second person is thinking “I accept this because….”  I think that this is a great way of thinking about the trustworthiness of knowledge – any explanation a practitioner (including practitioners of research) make is evaluated by the listener or reader in order to consider whether it is trustworthy or not. Continue reading

Discovering a landscape of research practice

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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Policy Safari

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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So what is the evidence base for the ‘call’ to be evidence based?

Just recently, the concept of ‘evidence-based public health’ or ‘evidence-based policy’ (and therefore, evidence-based public health policy) has started to worry me.  It’s so part of our discourse that you don’t often stop to think what does it really mean? and is it ‘really’ happening? and is it really possible?  But then when you do, you kind of realise that even the notion of ‘evidence’ is contested – what does it really mean to the people who advocate for ‘evidence-based xxxx’?

After christmas, the module on my PhD is called ‘Knowledge, evidence and theory’ so I suspect/hope I’ll have the opportunity to think of this more then, but in the meantime I’m pondering what does it mean to say that a public health initiative (policy, programme, project, service) is or isn’t underpinned by a sound evidence base?  I’ve jumped around a few books and internet searches in order to gain some initial impressions which I hope will form a basis for further inquiry into this area.

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Developing my thinking about the development of thinking

Just recently I’ve read a couple of articles.  They are both about the development of thinking in an educational context.  One is about developing critical thinking (Moon, 2005) and the other is about the teaching of systems concepts  and therefore of interest to the development of systems thinking (Salner 1986).

Both of the articles use theories of adult cognitive development or epistemological development as the foundation for their arguments.  In short, they argue that critical thinking (Moon article) and understanding of systems concepts (Salner article) are not possible until the adult has reached a certain stage of development and have integrated particular epistemological assumptions into their world views.  Both articles are written from a ‘pedagogical’ perspective so go onto discuss what educators can do to create the conditions where post-18 students can progress the development of their thinking – even if they are not consciously aware of it.

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Not sure where to start with this really.  ‘Knowing’ is one of those concepts I have come up against a few times.  Okay straight away my use of the phrase ‘come up against’ in the last sentence tells me that I am in some sort of adversarial battle with this concept.  It feels like that every time I encounter it, I kind of ‘get on top of it’, feel as if I am the master.  But then, it drifts away and next time we meet I have to start all over again. Continue reading

Epistemology and research

When I studied D843 Discourse Analysis, I experienced my first formal foray into epistemology – a concern with the status of knowledge and the associated claims made by researchers.  I am sure I have only had a little insight into a vast topic but I want to re-visit those materials to inform my upcoming research.

Taylor (2001, 11-15) distinguishes two broad composites of different traditions in the epistemological claims made by researchers. Continue reading