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.

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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.

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Design turn – ok yet again!

I am not inclined to do a search of the number of times I have written about the idea of the ‘design turn’.  It is now over 7 years since I first encountered the term in Ray Ison’s book ‘Systems Practice’.  The book is even in a second edition now and still I ‘re-learn’ about my understanding of design turn when I am prompted to reflect on it.

The latest insight has come not from considering the phrase ‘design turn’ as a whole but making a connection with another context where the word ‘turn’ is used.

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Writing about writing

I have been thinking about writing a lot recently.  It’s partly because I have been reading a fab book by Rowena Murray on ‘How to write a Thesis’.

The last time I wrote about writing, was in the TU811 student forum for the recent presentation.  Rather ironically it was written on 29 April 2017 – exactly 6 months ago.  I have copied it below (with minor changes) Continue reading

Managing my research ‘project’

I find it suprising that academics are really strong advocates of ‘evidence based practice’ and seek to account for and justify every methodological design decision they make, but don’t seem to apply the same standard to the ‘project methodologies’ they tell/require their PhD students to use to manage a research ‘project’. Continue reading

On policy analysis

It’s funny how it is so easy to take a phrase – in this case ‘policy analysis’ –  for granted and assume you get what it means, but then the minute you start reading about it you doubt yourself.  I’m getting tied in knots about how to parse the phrase (a bit like second hand japanese car salesman.  Is it about second hand japanese cars? or a japanese salesman?).

Okay so this is my meandering about policy analysis and phrases that build on it. Continue reading

Action research proposals – bridging two worlds

I have just packaged up the third iteration of all the materials for research ethics – subject to final supervisor ‘tweaks’ they are done (hooray).  This means that the research proposal I first attempted last july and amended and re-drafted ever since is now ‘done’.  But I didn’t want to move on without posting some reflections on writing an action research proposal.

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Forming a research question for action research

The minute I wrote that title, I realised that in a strict sense it is a little back to front.  We all know that our choice of research methodology should follow the definition of our aims, objectives and research question – form should follow function!  At least that is what the text books say.

But I’ll readily confess that I became a research student because I wanted the opportunity to learn more about and experience action research – others do that too for example some embark on a PhD because they want to home their quantitative data analysis skills.  So the ‘search’ for a research question and defining aims and objectives is also informed by the sort of knowledge, skills and experience I want to develop through my PhD and ultimately the sort of researcher I want to be.

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In my own words…

I’ve reached that stage in my PhD programme where I have to start ‘formalising’ my research proposal.  I need to iterate a few drafts over the next few weeks with a view to submitting it for formal assessment towards the end of July.  In the same time period, I do my first proper draft of an ethics application. That isn’t the ‘end point’, it can be refined or even changed after that – but it is a goal to be reached and a goal to make the most of.

But there lies a problem.  As I read – both the ‘content’ literature and the methodological literature – I can easily talk to myself about what I want to do and why, but when I get faced with the structure (template) for a research proposal, it just won’t come out, I can’t construct all those ideas into a coherent sounding explanation.  So I wondered whether writing it in my own words first of all would help – hence this blog.  Some researchers refer to this sort of thing as first person memos – so given it has a name, it must be an appropriate way of moving forward!  I have no idea as I start whether it is going to be one long blog or the first of a series focussing on different parts of a research proposal but here we go anyway….

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Theory, research and practice (and the use of theory in research practice)

Given the name of this blog and my use of the Leonardo Da Vinci quote in the side panel, it just came as a bit of a surprise to me that I haven’t really posted before on the inter-relationship of theory, research and practice (the main exception being one on Knowledge into action).  Or maybe it is because the whole blog is implicitly about that very topic, that I’ve never thought to address it explicitly.

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