Posts Tagged 'Research'

‘Ain’t no such things as half-way crooks’: political discourses and structural duplicity in the troubled families agenda

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ by Stephen Crossley came out in April

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problemdiscusses the National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015 to 2020 interim findings, ‘dirty data’, his approach and methodology and the purpose of academic research.

Academics from different disciplines are often expected to demonstrate the impact of their research and this impact can be expected to relate to demonstrable changes in policy and/or practice. Such aims can lead to research being commissioned and published that is amenable to the interests of policy-makers and politicians. But there can be dangers in this, especially in the UK at the current time where many academics would not feel comfortable aligning themselves with some of the policies being pursued or advocated by our government or other powerful institutions.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu railed against ‘lackey intellectuals’ (Stabile and Morooka, 2010: 329) who put themselves in the service of neoliberal governments and, along with his long-time collaborator Loïc Wacquant, referred to such individuals as ‘defector[s] from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001: 1).

“Sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’”

In studying the implementation of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) for my PhD and for Troublemakers, I wanted to adopt a different approach. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu and Wacquant, as well as other sociologists who have urged researchers to remember whose side they are on and to ‘study up’, I decided that ‘muckraking’ sociological approach would be appropriate. Gary T. Marx argued for a ‘muckraking sociology’ which, using the tools of social science, could help to unearth ‘dirty data’. Marx, like many others, proposed that sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’ (1972: 4).

Writing in the 1970s, but with continuing relevance, he argued that muckraking research should help to document and publicise ‘the gap between values and actual practices and in questioning established orthodoxies’ (Marx, 1972: 2), and could be of benefit to those groups seeking change. Such research, Marx argued, could ‘give us a clearer picture of our world, stripped of protective verbiage and without the usual selective perceptions (and misperceptions)’ (1972: 4–5). In a passage particularly relevant to an examination of the TFP and its emphasis on ‘hands-on’ practical support for disadvantaged families, while marginalising structural inequalities and poverty, Marx argued that muckraking research ‘can expose the fallacies in certain common sense beliefs about social problems and show how certain ideas rationalize an unsatisfactory status quo’ (1972: 5) He goes on suggest that:

Such research uses the tools of social science to document unintended (or officially unacknowledged) consequences of social action, inequality, poverty, racism, exploitation, opportunism, neglect, denial of dignity, hypocrisy, inconsistency, manipulation, wasted resources and the displacement of an organization’s stated goals in favour of self-perpetuation. It may show how, and the extent to which, a dominant or more powerful class, race, group or stratum takes advantage of, misuses, mistreats, or ignores a subordinate group, often in the face of an ideology that claims it does exactly the opposite.

Such an approach has been particularly fruitful in studying the TFP. Research by myself and other academics have unearthed a large amount of ‘dirty data’ relating to the programme ‘whose revelation would be discrediting or costly’ to the government and that goes beyond incidental or minor inconsistencies, errors of judgement or ‘soft-core discrepancies’ (Marx, 1984: 79).

“The government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.”

In 2011, at the launch of the programme, the government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.

It had evidence that, around seven years earlier, there were around 120,000 families that were experiencing ‘multiple disadvantages’ such as poverty, material deprivation, poor housing, and poor maternal mental health. The government claimed that the programme ‘turned around’ the lives of 99% of the 120,000 ‘troubled families it originally set out to work with. It didn’t.

Families that turned themselves around with no contact with the programme were counted in the TFP figures. Families could, in some circumstances, be classed as having been ‘turned around’ by a child reaching school leaving age. The effectiveness of the ‘family intervention’ model, on which the TFP is based, had, in the words of David Gregg, been ‘sexed up’. Research was carried out without appropriate ethical procedures. Statistics and surveys that formed the basis of the need for ‘radical reform’ were invented. Local authorities were effectively threatened with naming and shaming if they didn’t ‘turn around’ 100% of their families in the first phase of the project. Local authority officers on the programme complained of staff from DCLG phoning them up to complain about slow progress. It was alleged that the government attempted to ‘suppress’ the official evaluation of the programme when it failed to provide them with the support it was expecting. Researchers who critiqued the programme had their competence and their integrity publicly called into question. A parliamentary committee accused the DCLG (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) of obfuscation and evasion in its lack of co-operation with an inquiry into the programme.

While I was carrying out my research, I was reminded of Mobb Deep’s assertion that there ‘aint’ no such things as half-way crooks’. In more academic terms, Bourdieu (1985: 738) argued that ‘political discourses have a sort of structural duplicity’, and the ‘troubled families’ agenda is a clear-cut example of this. It relies on deceit and duplicity at all levels, and the catalogue of inconsistencies, contradictions and falsehoods listed above cannot be put down to individual errors of judgement or mere coincidence.

Troublemakers focuses attempts to explicate and lay bare the overblown claims of the programme, the underhandedness, political chicanery and ‘structural duplicity’ that has been evident throughout the programme, and the symbolical importance of the programme at a time of wider state restructuring. It is, in short, an attempt to rake all, or as much as possible in a little over 200 pages, of the muck associated with the TFP into a single heap.


Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (2001) NewLiberalSpeak: Notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy, 105: 2-5.

Marx, G.T. (1972) (ed.) Muckraking Sociology: Research as Social Criticism, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Stabile, C.A. and Morooka, J. (2010) ‘Between Two Evils, I Refuse To Choose The Lesser’, Cultural Studies, 17 (3-4): 326-348.

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The role of co-production in research and practice


Aksel Ersoy

Aksel Ersoy, editor of The impact of co-production, discusses the debate around the ways public engagement can go beyond a simple consultation and how it can be ‘relevant’ in the academia.

“This topic is particularly essential for those who seek economic justification for universities’ actions and research agenda as opposed to academics working especially in the Arts and Humanities divisions.

As a response to this challenge, the mechanisms for measuring and embedding ‘community-oriented impact’ have begun to take hold through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and bodies designed to support universities in their public engagement strategies such as the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), The Wellcome Trust, Catalyst Public Engagement Beacons, and embedded university public engagement departments in the UK. New funding streams have opened-up like the Research Council UK (RCUK) Connected Communities programme, designed to promote collaborative endeavours and co-production between academics, artists, public service providers and a range of community groups.

“It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research”

One of the main reasons why we are witnessing new forms of understanding and acting that are being invented within the UK is related to the ambiguous nature of the impact agenda and how it makes academics to act in more prescribed ways. While performance indicators are highly problematic in the context of uncertainties and public cuts, there is a general consensus amongst practitioners and academics that we should pay more attention to governance practices that are engaged in reformulating power structures.

Within this framework, co-production remains as an experiment for communities, universities as well as public authorities as it provides inclusive and practical guidance by facilitating learning. The term is now being cast as a new methodology in which communities can be engaged in policy development, delivery and research. It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research. However, the question of who is advocating this is still a question mark. Commercial consultants, professional associations, client groups, chief executives, think tanks are all a part of this process.

More importantly, the concept is very essential as it can contribute to the creation of alternative urban visions which would stimulate longer term transformations while contributing to sustainable urban development. Although universities are one part of these discussions, their role is getting more prominent as they can be seen as a bridge between citizens, public institutions and community organisations.

The Bristol Method, which came out of the European Green Capital Partnership Award in 2015, is an excellent example for this kind of setting. The Bristol Green Capital Partnership module that has been established as a result of the Award is seen as a vehicle that would lead to drive change towards becoming a more sustainable city over the next decades.

“Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services.”

The coproduction discourse has replaced long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it is interested in exploring how new arrangements can be established in new ways in new times. Individuals and groups have turned to co-production owing to the fact that it is presented as offering an efficient solution to a range of political tensions associated within the complex social, political and economic orders of advanced liberal societies and it is functioning as a particular form of regulation. Moreover there is a need to move towards exploring more democratic involvement which not only generate change in policy processes but also empower community-oriented practices.

Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services. In fact, there is a constant iteration between these two different but connected arenas. While coproduction of services remains as the successor of the long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it has been used to explore how public services are delivered in new ways in new times, coproduction of research raises concerns about inclusion and uses different ways with which to leverage experiences of people or institutions in diverse constituencies. It raises the question of how we do what we do. It offers an opportunity to explore process-oriented research without pre-supposing the outcomes of those engagements. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think that there is no difference of substance amongst the groups or networks of people who are studying coproduction of research.

Coproduction brings in hard questions that we need to be grappling with in terms of us shifting our thinking. It’s a transformation of experience into policy or a transformation of research into action and change. However, instead of intellectualising the concept, it should be celebrated without asking how change happens. This would stop academics finding community organisations to identify what to work on in response to a funding opportunity and encourage engagement and collaboration as a core part of knowledge practices at universities. Otherwise, there might be a danger of doing it wrong.”

The impact of co-production [FC].jpg

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Is the new impact agenda the excuse you’ve been waiting for to use your research to make a difference?

Sharon Wright and Peter Dwyer, researching the impacts of Universal Credit since 2013 as part of the collaborative ESRC Welfare Conditionality project, reflect on their recent experience of contributing to the Universal Credit debate, to argue that impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.

Dr. Sharon Wright

Prof. Peter Dwyer

The news that research impact will account for a quarter of a unit’s score for the REF2021 research excellence rankings has piqued the interest of cash-hungry University leaders across the country.

With the most significant and far reaching impacts bringing in around £324k, pressure is building for academics to strike into uncharted knowledge-exchange territory to secure elusive high-earning 4* impact case studies.

But if the thought of money as a motivator leaves you cold – and the more familiar competing pressures of teaching, administration and research offer space for little else – is there an alternative way of looking at the new drive for impact?

“Impact activities can be most meaningful if they are aimed at making a difference that really matters.”

In October 2017, Universal Credit (UC) hit the headlines with public outrage at claimants unable to afford to eat and at risk of losing their homes because of the built-in delay of 6 weeks for the first payment.

One of the greatest injustices is that Universal Credit was sold to the electorate as a reform aimed at simplifying the system and making work pay, and as such, it was originally welcomed widely. However, design flaws are being exposed as contributing to rising foodbank use, homelessness and destitution.

House of Commons

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, has been resistant to calls for urgent action to restore UC in line with its original policy aims. On 18th October 2017, a unanimous group of opposition MPs won the landmark House of Commons vote, 299 to zero, to ‘pause and fix’ the Universal Credit roll-out.

Decisive to the vote and the ongoing debate, were SNP MP Neil Gray’s authoritative parliamentary speeches, which used cutting edge research evidence, including our article on ‘Ubiquitous Conditionality’, alongside the experiences of his constituents to substantiate compelling arguments for reform:

“The Government should review the cuts to the work allowances, which are acting as a disincentive to work and making work pay less; review the cuts to housing benefit, which are driving up rent arrears […]; and review the cuts to employment support, which are denying help to those who need it most, and they should fully review and then scrap the disgusting sanctioning policy, which could have cost the life of my constituent, Mr Moran, and has cost the lives of others. That was the subject of an excellent paper by Sharon Wright of Glasgow University and Peter Dwyer of the University of York in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice.” Read the full transcript of the debate here. 

How did we achieve this impact? Sharon met with Neil Gray on a panel discussing ‘Rethinking Poverty’ at the SNP Conference in Glasgow. Following this, she watched a clip of Neil’s first Universal Credit speech and let him know that our research published in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice (including the article that was featured in a free collection at the time) backed up several of the points he had made. Via Twitter and email, Sharon sent Neil a link to our recent blog and responded to a follow-up query with additional research evidence. Neil then used the evidence in his subsequent speeches and said:

“Academic and well researched evidence on the impact of
Universal Credit is crucial for persuading government to
change its mind and fix the system as it is being rolled out.

Neil Gray

Sharon’s research and input has been invaluable for me in
setting out the case that I have in the House of Commons.
The government can try to dismiss or ignore political debate,
but personal testimony and independent academia is harder
to ignore.

I hope Sharon and others will continue to look at issues like
the social security ‘reforms’ so that government policy can
be effectively challenged and hopefully overturned, to help
people who desperately need that support.”

As an impact activity, the process was quick, easy and direct. The result was Neil’s exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.

“…exemplary use of research evidence for accurate and well-informed debate that continues to feed into meaningful changes to policy and practice.”

The focus throughout was straight-forwardly on the issues that matter. For us as academics, the current importance placed on impact activities offers legitimacy to carve out the necessary time to do exactly what we have always wanted to do – proactively engage with policy makers, in a policy field where robust evidence has gone against the grain of dominant political preferences, to use research to make a difference.


Universal Credit, ubiquitous conditionality and its implications for social citizenship from The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, is FREE to read on Ingenta until 31 December 2017.

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Image: UK Parliament, ‘House of Commons: MPs debate 2013 Queen’s Speech‘ Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0

Am I a patient?

Alan Cribb unravels the transition from an epidemiological approach to a philosophical approach to healthcare he discusses in his new book – Healthcare in transition – by examining how his identification, or not, as a patient impacts on his research.

Whilst working as an academic I tend not to identify myself as a patient. 

In the last few years one of the themes of my work has been patient-centred or person-centred healthcare, and I have just completed Healthcare in transition, a book in which I tried to tease out some of the elements of, and tensions within, this idea. But I have never self-identified as a patient in my writing and I only occasionally do so in my face to face encounters with trusted colleagues and in what feel like safe spaces to me.

In some ways this is odd. I am not simply a patient in a notional sense – like very many people, I have regular interactions with medical consultants and other health professionals, I follow a regime of treatment and I have health-related conditions that challenge my identity and frame the way I organise my life. So why not self-identify as a patient in my academic work?

“Why not self-identity as a patient in my academic work?”

Partly it is probably just about privacy or for reasons of self-protection – not to invite threatening line of enquiry from others. But it feels as if it is about something more than that. First and foremost it seems presumptuous. It feels like I have been invited to the meeting with one ticket – as a researcher – but now I am claiming to have a further ticket and am expecting to vote twice!

This sense of cheating applies however I think about what counts as a patient, and I have to confess that I am confused about this. In health services research, for example, it is now a methodological and ethical norm to worry about the inclusion of either patient perspectives or patients in some fuller sense. But there is a spectrum of attitudes and practices in response to this norm.

In some cases – and this is to exaggerate for effect – ‘patients’ is treated as a kind of self-fulfilling marginal category, such that if people happen to have any other source of relevant expertise – they are health professionals, or researchers, or activists or even heavily engaged in a peer led patient group then they will to some extent be disqualified as ‘patients’.

This attitude stems from an understandable concern that the identity of patients isn’t colonised and misrepresented by powerful voices but, at the same time – certainly in this exaggerated sense – it risks reproducing a deficit view of patients.

“I feel either disqualified or under qualified.”

At the other end of the spectrum there are strong patient voices and groups who will not only lobby for involvement in research but will themselves lead research and will challenge prevailing orthodoxies – for example, questioning not only the practices of patient involvement but also the ways in which research agendas are set and research is conducted and so on. These kinds of patient voices play an important role and can be inspirational. But there is also a danger here – again at the extreme – that the identity of patient itself becomes professionalised and owned by a few well-organised people.

The first account coincides with my worry about being presumptuous. I need to be cautious about saying I am speaking as a patient, especially with any implication that it is on behalf of other patients, when I already have a hearing as an academic.

But I am equally ruled out on the second account. I have not taken any special steps to become an expert patient; nor do I have any particular credentials to claim a quasi-professional status in this regard. For me to act as if I had would be to cheat.

In short, I feel either disqualified or under qualified. But the issue of my patient identity will not go away completely. It seems unavoidable because even not mentioning it feels like a significant choice. In some contexts there are temptations to mention it – because for certain audiences it may add a sense of authenticity and credibility. In other contexts there are temptations not to mention it – because, for example, some clinicians or others may worry about what axe I have to grind and see it as a source of ‘bias’.

How far this issue is seen to be of importance, and in what respects, is arguably a function of the kind of research we are talking about and also of disciplinary assumptions and conventions. But for anyone who thinks ‘reflexivity’ matters it does seem to be a question worth asking.

If I am being reflexive as an academic then I can treat my identity as a source of problems or limitations that need to be acknowledged, or as a source of legitimacy or authority, or sometimes as a combination of both. This seems as relevant to patient identity as to other aspects of identity. On this account there seems to be something seriously lacking in my approach to date.

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What makes for a strong Voluntary Sector Review paper? Eight points to consider

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris, editors of the international Voluntary Sector Review journal, present 8 tips for submitting a strong paper. 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris

As editors of Voluntary Sector Review (VSR), we attract a wide range of international article submissions, covering the whole range of topics around voluntary and community action, non-profit organisations and civil society. We often reflect on what makes for a strong paper.

Full-length research articles in VSR, normally no longer than 8,000 words in length, may focus on empirical findings, methodological issues, scholarly or theoretical inquiry, and applied analysis of relevance to practitioners and decision makers. We welcome submissions from all parts of the globe, and encourage all of our authors to highlight the international implications of their work.

We know that the whole process of submitting a paper can be daunting and onerous for authors – something you’ve been working on for a while has finally been given over for an external judgement of its potential value. Preparing a good paper for submission is an art rather than a science, and through our experience as editors and authors we have drawn together a list of eight helpful points to consider before you submit your paper.

1. What is the paper about and why is it important?

Be very clear on what the paper is about, starting with a clear statement of the issue that it addresses, together with an explanation of why the issue is of interest to and important for readers of the journal. You need to provide good reasons for readers to read on and subsequently remember your article.

2. Critical understanding of the literature

Embed the issue the paper addresses in the relevant literature, with a critical understanding of the most important and influential previous articles and books in this area.

3. Intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context

Make sure you set out clearly the intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context that informs the article.

4. Methods

Where you are reporting empirical findings, make sure the research design, data collection methods and analysis techniques used are described in sufficient detail for readers to be able to understand how the study might be replicated, and on what basis the conclusions are being drawn. Where prior literature provides the basis for the article (in addition to or instead of empirical findings), explain how it was sourced, selected and reviewed.

5. Key findings

Set out the key findings relevant to the issue addressed in the article in a systematic way, relating them to earlier work covered in the literature review. Authors often try to say too much here, overloading their submission with empirical findings such that the point of the article is obscured in empirical detail.

6. Contribution to knowledge

Identify the extent and ways in which the findings and discussion contribute to new empirical knowledge about the issue or better theoretical understanding of the topic. There is a balance to be struck here: be confident in the conclusions you draw, but don’t overstate the case.

7. Implications for future research, policy or practice

Draw out the implications of the study for future research, policy or practice – in the country which is the primary focus of the article, but also more broadly where appropriate.

8. Argument, structure, and signposting

Finally, check to see whether there is a clear, well-signposted, structure and thread of argument running through the paper, so that readers can quickly gain a secure sense of the paper’s development from introduction to conclusion.

On receipt of a submission, we will always make an initial editorial judgement before we send a paper out for review, and we may ask you to revise the paper before doing so. We encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback to authors in order to help improve papers, and we will provide guidance on how to proceed if the decision is one of ‘revise and resubmit’. The peer review process can be exacting but it is rigorous and invariably leads to better quality papers.

We would encourage you to get in touch if you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of its suitability. We’ll always aim to provide helpful guidance, though, of course, we cannot provide any guarantees of publication.

If you would like to submit a paper you can find the Journal’s aims and scope, and instructions for authors on the Voluntary Sector Review website. You will also find further information about submitting Policy and Practice articles, along with details of the relevant editors for these sections.


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Co-creating impact: why universities and communities should work together

Kate Pahl and Keri Facer, authors of Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research, discuss the value of co-production and collaboration between academic researchers and community projects. 

Valuing Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research will be launched at the Co-Creating Cities & Communities Summer Event today in Bristol #ahrcconnect #citiesandcoms2017 @ahrcconnect

Kate Pahl

Keri Facer

“Increasingly, universities are being asked to work with communities in more inclusive, collaborative and ethical ways, but their processes and practices are often overlooked, particularly within the arts and humanities.

University ways of knowing and doing are only one part of research and new conceptual tools are needed to make sense of this. This makes for a new and exciting research landscape.

“Impact isn’t just about academics doing brilliant, original research… impact is co-created.”

The ‘impact’ agenda needs to shift to recognise the nature of ‘co-produced impact’. That is, impact isn’t just about academics doing brilliant, original research which is written up in articles and then re-produced in different forms to a grateful community which draws on this research.

Instead, impact is co-created. People have ideas, in communities and in universities and they work on these together, bringing different knowledges and practices to those questions and ideas. This then produces a different kind of knowledge – richer, more diverse, more carefully located in real and everyday contexts and more relevant.

Connected Communities

The Connected Communities (CC) programme, headed by the AHRC cross-research council, has funded over 300 projects, worked with over 500 collaborating organisations and over 700 academics from universities across the UK, on topics ranging from festivals to community food, from everyday creativity to care homes, from hyper-local journalism to community energy.

‘Valuing Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research’ (Policy Press 2017), the latest volume in the Connected Communities book series, brings together a number of diverse and rich research projects that range from community evaluation, to how community values play out in collaborative research, how decisions on heritage should be made, and on what artists do when they work with academics and communities together with the role of performance in highlighting community concerns.

Many different people contributed to the projects ranging from people from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Science Museum, to people working within communities as well as within universities.


Some themes which emerge in the book include translation, co-production, dialogic modes of research and tacit and embodied knowledge. A key theme is the nature of knowledge and its production practices . Ways of capturing everyday knowledge, through stories, maps, material objects, conversations and performances, are discussed and considered.

In the book we attempt to map this new world out. We offer a set of helpful ideas and ways forward to articulate what is needed to do this sort of work. We argue that projects like this need to include an element of productive divergence.

“Perhaps if this kind of research was funded more often, surprises like the recent election result wouldn’t have come as so much of a shock.”

The projects are often grounded in the world materially and objects play a strong part. They often involve mess, uncertainty, complexity and a focus on practice and involve translating across different fields, as well as stories as a mode of exchange. Many of the projects draw on tacit and embodied learning that were informed by arts methodologies as well as ideas from sensory and phenomenological perspectives.

Perhaps if this kind of research was funded more often, surprises like the recent election result wouldn’t have come as so much of a shock. Universities need to become more attuned to the voices of communities, to their accounts of what is important and necessary to research. The Connected Communities programme and this book make a start in redressing the balance.


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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Academic Work, Fast and Slow

Should academics strive to be ‘fast’ or ‘slow’? Helen Kara, author of Research and evaluation for busy students and practitioners, argues that there is not one, clear answer. 

Helen Kara

In recent years there has been an increasingly heated debate, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, about whether academia is – or should be – ‘fast’ or ‘slow’.

This is linked to other discourses about speed such as Slow Food and Slow Cities.

Some commentators aver that the pace of life in academia is speeding up because of managerialism, the REF and its equivalents in other countries, and the ensuing pressure to conduct and publish interesting research with significant results. All of this, in addition to the increasing casualisation of employment in academia, and the increasing speed of digital communication, has led to toxic working conditions that cause academics to have breakdowns and burn out.

This doesn’t only affect academics, but also non-academics doing academic work such as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Also, to some academics’ surprise, this doesn’t only apply in academia, but also in the public sector more widely, and parts of the private sector too. Perhaps this is because, as the saying goes, the speed of change is faster than it’s ever been before, yet it will never be this slow again.

Continue reading ‘Academic Work, Fast and Slow’

JPP Editorial: Why Playwork is about much more than ‘space’

Today’s blog post is an editorial written by Shelly Newstead which featured in the latest issue of Journal of Playwork Practice. If you enjoy this and would like more information about the Journal of Playwork Practice or to take part in a free institutional trial please click here.

ShellyAt the time of this issue going to print, the backbone of the playwork profession in the UK, the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Playwork, is under review.

Primarily created to qualify the burgeoning out of school childcare workforce the first NOS for Playwork were developed in the early 1990s by a group of playwork experts and the Sector Skills Council for Playwork, now known as SkillsActive (Bonel and Lindon 1996).

NOS for Playwork

The existence of a separate set of NOS for Playwork is crucial to distinguish playwork from other approaches to working with children within what Hughes (2012) called the ‘primeval learning soup‘ of the wider children’s workforce. However the original playwork NOS and subsequent revisions have been criticised by some playwork authors for being too functional and for not describing playwork as a unique profession within its own right (see Davy, 2007; Wilson 2008). The current review has raised some interesting debates, not only about the development of the NOS for Playwork but also about the nature and purpose of playwork itself. Continue reading ‘JPP Editorial: Why Playwork is about much more than ‘space’’

Academic writing: ‘Rigour and relevance in health and social care’ – is the best of both worlds possible?

Professor of Health and Social Care at the University of Birmingham Jon Glasby provides his views on how academic writing can not only serve to bridge the gap between research and practice in health and social care but can also generate a useful creative tension for the writing process.

Jon GlasbyWhen I was completing my social work training and thinking about a possible PhD, colleagues at the time said I was too academic for practice and too practical for academia… Luckily I found somewhere like the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) at the University of Birmingham, where the stated commitment to ‘rigour and relevance’ enabled me to fulfil (and make a virtue out of) both sides of my personality.

For me, it’s crucial that we try to bridge academia and practice – but I’ve always been very aware of the tensions that this can entail. Leading universities are increasingly asked to demonstrate that they are internationally renowned in terms of their research, and yet translating this into everyday practice requires a detailed knowledge of/empathy with the realities of front-line services, the pressures they face and the difference they can make (both positive and negative) to the lives of people using such services.

two different directions

Being able to speak to an international research audience and a local practice audience at the same time can be challenging – and certainly requires an unusual mix of skills. The danger is that people trying to span this traditional divide get pulled in two different directions at once, and end up having to justify themselves against rules with which they don’t really agree (competing for influence against more traditional academics on the one hand and against more practice-orientated organisations on the other – and doing so on their own terms).

However, this has always felt to me like a creative tension – with scope to take the best of both worlds. Why would anyone want to contribute knowledge of what works to a practice audience unless they were really clear it was high quality, distinctive and helpful knowledge in the first place? Equally, why would anyone want to research the realities of front-line services, without wanting to be able to contribute to helping to improve such services?

“All too often we either ‘do’ or we ‘think’, with different approaches and different success criteria in both academia and in practice”

Rather than seeing these as separate worlds, we need more people who can act as a bridge or as a conduit: who can take the best research and help apply it, whilst also building on detailed knowledge of policy and of front-line practice in order to improve the quality and relevance of our research. Rather than competing in either an academic or a practice-orientated world, we need to be arguing that these are two sides of the same coin – that both ‘rigour and relevance’ matter.

Often, these issues have come to the fore for me when I’ve been writing for Policy Press. Having a detailed knowledge of the latest research and theory is important, but so too is being able to use this in a way that engages students, practitioners, managers and policy makers alike. Indeed, this has become something of an acid test for me over the years – if I understand something well enough to be able to try to explain it to others in everyday language and in a way that works for them, then I probably understand it pretty well.

Equally, if I can’t make a policy and practice audience interested in the research I’ve been doing, then should I have been doing it at all in the first place? All too often we either ‘do’ or we ‘think’, with different approaches and different success criteria in both academia and in practice. Yet the issues involved in running and in researching health and social care services are so complex and so important that we need to be able to ‘do’ and to ‘think’ at the same time – definitely a question of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or.’

Jon Glasby is Professor of Health and Social Care, Director of HSMC and incoming Head of the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. His latest with Policy Press include:
Partnership working in health and social care_ 2nd edn_[FC]Debates in personalisation [FC]Partnership working in health and social care (with Helen Dickinson) (2nd ed., 2014)

Debates in personalisation (edited with Catherine Needham) (2014)


Other titles by the same author:
Understanding health and social care (2nd ed., 2012)
Commissioning for health and well-being (edited collection) (2012)
Evidence, policy and practice (edited collection) (2011)
Direct payments and personal budgets (with Rosemary Littlechild) (2nd ed., 2009)
The Better partnership working series (2008) (edited with Helen Dickinson)

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Research and Evaluation Bytes

Helen Kara

Helen Kara

Do you do research as part of your job or course? If so, the chances are your time is extremely limited and you struggle to fit in all your commitments. After I wrote my book Research and evaluation for busy practitioners: A time-saving guide, I realised that some people might need help in only one aspect of the research process, and not have time to read the entire book. For example you might have collected all your data but be confused about how to analyse it, or you might know about the mechanics of research from previous experience but need help in managing the process or writing it up.

Another important reason for doing it was to make my work more easily accessible for those who might not be able either to get a copy from a library or to buy the whole book.

So I was delighted when Policy Press agreed to produce a competitively priced selection of e-books, as part of their ‘Bytes’ series, based on some of the key chapters.

The first task was to decide which chapters to include in the e-books. The two chapters from the whole book which received the most positive feedback are the chapters on managing the research process and on writing. The first and last e-books in the series, Managing The Research Process and Writing For Research, are based on these two chapters. Then I decided on Collecting Primary Data and Analysing Data for the other two e-books. Data analysis is where inexperienced researchers often get stuck, because it is usually a solitary activity and always a taxing one. Also, it seemed essential when producing an e-book on data analysis to include one on data collection.

The next job was to rewrite the chapters to an accessible length for the Bytes series, and make sure each one could stand alone, while including as many of the time-saving hints and tips from the whole book as possible. This was surprisingly difficult, even though it was 18 months since I finished writing the original book. I was very grateful for the highly skilled editorial team at Policy Press, whose input was invaluable.

I love the cover designs created by the excellent production team at Policy Press and am very pleased that we were able to include one of Carol Burns’ charming illustrations from the original text in each e-book. And I am absolutely thrilled to be in illustrious company because, at the time of writing, the other Bytes author is no less a person than Professor Danny Dorling, whose work I admire enormously.

Policy Press Bytes are practical, affordable, and easy to digest. I hope one or more of them will be useful for you. And if you have any feedback, we’d love to hear it, either in the comments box below, to me via Twitter, or direct to Policy Press.

Helen Kara

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