ARCS Monograph No. 2 (2005)
How Can Professionals Help People to Inquire Using their own Action Research?
I want to re-visit the differences between research which is conducted by human services professionals on, about and for their primary and ultimate beneficiaries – clients, patients, or community members – in contrast to research which is more for, by and with primary and ultimate beneficiaries. I want to do this in light of the widespread continuation of a model of ‘professionalism’ that rests heavily on valuing preexisting professional knowledge and evidence-bases. That is, the persistence of a model of professional expertise that presumes the applicability of prior knowledge developed from other professionals’ research, in contrast to seeing professional expertise as lying in knowing how to develop that knowledge more from and with intended beneficiaries, constantly testing it with those beneficiaries for continued relevance at each new application.
I give two case examples to illuminate these differences and affirm the value of approaching professional practice as the facilitation and resourcing of people’s own inquiries. The first is an instance where professional staff proceeded with the research they saw as needed to help low income women (for, about and on the critical reference group). Meanwhile the low income women simultaneously proceeded to plan the research they saw as needed to help their situations (with and by the critical reference group). The second case example illuminates more deeply an extended effort that commenced with research done for, about and on, but moved to be research with and by the end-beneficiaries. This involved differing constellations of researcher/s, research facilitators, researched and researched-for as a responsive shift took place in the locus of power from professionals to beneficiaries – ultimately leading to greater success. I conclude by briefly summarising the conditions that seem to assist (or hinder) professionals researching more with and by their intended end-beneficiaries.
Download ARCS Monograph No. 2 - Wadsworth, 2005 (107 KB)
ARCS Monograph No. 1 (1994)
Consulting on a Consultation Protocol
Not a lot has been written about the "how" of designing effective stakeholder involvement in decision-making.
In 1991 I had an excellent opportunity to live some of my values about stakeholder involvement and experiment with an action research approach when I worked on the Consultation Protocol Project. This project was being conducted by the Social Policy Unit of the Office of Cabinet in Queensland, Australia, and aimed to produce guidelines (protocol) for consulting with stakeholders which could be used by all state government departments.
I became involved in the project because I believed in the usefulness of democratic participation for all sorts of reasons but particularly because I believed it was an empowering experience for community participants. I saw myself as working alongside participants as a participant-observer.
From February until September 1991, I functioned as a consultant to the project working with staff from the Office of Cabinet to develop the protocol. We decided that we would consult about the consultation protocol, and for me the means, or process, of consultation about the content was just as important as the end, or protocol document.
I chose action research as the methodology because it is congruent with my values about striving for real social change, and because it is collaborative. It seemed to me to be an excellent path for practicing congruence in this project i.e making sure there was a match between what I said I was doing, and what I did. It was my first attempt at using an action research approach.
The project officer (office of Cabinet - Qld State Government) and I began talking with a few policy people in the state government about our perception that consultation was important, but wasn't being done well and our idea of putting together a document which would help guide future consultations. They agreed with our perceptions, indicated their willingness to be involved and at our request, suggested others who they thought might want to be involved.
And so the process snowballed, until we had over 100 participants from government, the community and community consultants. Four action research cycles formed, each around important events in the project, and each informing the next. Throughout the project, my colleague and I continued to read about consultation, what was included into the first draft of the protocol and was published between our first and second cycles. Participants not only inputted into the content (two refinements of the draft documents), they also contributed to the development of the process (the consultation they experienced).
However, perhaps because I was a novice at using action research I was unable to engender much interest in the approach, and was consequently unable to create much of a climate of critical reflection on our collective experiences in the project.
Final evaluations, however, indicated that if pressed participants were aware that there were outcomes other than the visible protocol document - networking relationships, some individual learning, and a realization that these intangible benefits of consultation need to be outlined in submissions for funding for consultative processes.
My personal learning was that I applied action research in a rather simplistic way, earning myself some negative feedback about my lack of focus on basic relationship-building. I also learned that it was arrogant of me to expect to empower others, and that I was really using more of a teaching model than a collaborative one.
The final Consultation Protocol was released by the Office of Cabinet in January 1994 after years of refinements.
The challenge for me now and in the future is to work at being aware of my personal framework when working with others, in order to avoid the danger of incongruency.
Download ARCS Monograph No. 1 - Uhlmann, 1994 (4.33 MB)