My blog and me

I have had an email from wordpress which means I have to re-vamp my theme in order to keep a mobile version.  It’s made me think about my relationship with my blog and how I want to relate to it in the future.  It’s probably a good point to think about this.  It’s nearly 10 years since I set it up and whilst I used it loads between 2010 and 2012 to help me understand my learning on MSc Systems thinking in practice, I haven’t posted as much since then.  In fact, I haven’t posted for over a year now.

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A new (to me) domain of practice…

In the last few weeks I’ve been appointed as an associate lecturer (aka tutor) for the Open University.  I am going to be tutoring on TU811 “Thinking strategically: systems approaches for managing change” which I studied myself back in 2010.  My studying of TU811 preceded the launch of Just Practicing so I may end up blogging about the approaches as I re-discover the module materials – backfilling a gap in this blog!

Since I’ve been appointed I’ve been on induction – induction at a distance given that it is the OU.  It’s involved reading and watching short video clips about my duties and responsibilities, trying to master the ‘tech’ I will need to use, and, becoming familiar with procedures and resources.

I’ve realised that I am entering into a new (to me) ‘community of practice’ – Continue reading

The ‘ideal’ policy making process

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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Doh – it’s another landscape…stupid (Aka the ‘aha’ moment)

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!

Can systematic literature reviews be approached systemically?

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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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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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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Paradigm shift

I saw a tweet recently that said something like “you know when someone says paradigm shift that it is going to be a long meeting”.  No idea how long this blog will be – wanted to pull a few strands of thought together.

The thoughts were prompted by a friend of mine pointing me in the direction of a great on-line essay by Charles Eisenstein – called 2013: The Space between Stories.  It really cleverly describes something I’ve experienced both as a ‘citizen’ and also in my ‘work’.  I highly recommend that readers follow the link above now to get a sense of Eisenstein’s essay that starts:

Every culture has a Story of the People to give meaning to the world. Part conscious and part unconscious, it consists of a matrix of agreements, narratives, and symbols that tell us why we are here, where we are headed, what is important, and even what is real. I think we are entering a new phase in the dissolution of our Story of the People, and therefore, with some lag time, of the edifice of civilization built on top of it.

In fact if you’ve only got a few minutes, read that blog not this one!

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Social learning on the sly

I’ve been a little bit quiet of late.  Can’t believe it is nearly a month since my last blog (that felt like being in the confessional!).  Part of it was a great week in Paris but mostly it was because I was v.v.v.v. busy at work…..

Yesterday, Newcastle had its second Wellbeing and Health Summit – and I had to organise it.  From head to toe – the concept, the design, the invites, supervising input of a whole team into prep work and then yesterday itself acting as a facilitator with one of my colleagues. 150 people coming together to ‘re-think wellbeing and health’ in the city. Continue reading