a slightly-heated plea for practice-based evidence
Bill points to how the forthcoming National Guidance Research Forum will
help bridge the gap between research and practice. But, he argues, we
also need to wonder why there is a gap: and to see how a bridge can be
built - from both sides.
what might that mean for researchers and practitioners?
Some people argue, these days, that it doesnt do to think too seriously
- ...ask awkward questions, ...hope for progress. There are just too many
conflicting points-of-view. A person can get confused and upset, ...over-excited,
...even argumentative. Such disturbances, they say, are so last-century;
this century is cool. We are all stressed-out enough; and
so the post-modern gurus advice is welcome...
back, be happy - chill out!
advice you may find it easy to take. Just take a no-more-than-vaguely-contemplative
look at the state of guidance, and you might warm up a bit. Try as we
might not to get heavy, when it comes to careers, Connexions and life-long
learning, we start feeling the heat. You know, dont you, that there
are some settings where some of the words in this paragraph are actually
forbidden! And citizenship is not going to be easier on anybodys
careers work we
have, in the past, made much of providing neutral, economy-related information.
And we have, accordingly, made self awareness hinge on employability.
The underlying DOTS formula is presented in untroublesome
terms. But maybe it can only give us guidance-lite; and we
now need the full-strength version.
cool is unsettled by contemporary change. Information is outdated at release;
so the most urgent learning needs are not only expressed as what people
find out, they are also expressed as knowing how to learn more. And, because
careers work is increasingly understood in the context of other social
and learning needs, we need to work with other-than-guidance sources of
help and influence. Theres more: we increasingly understand that
everything swims - or sinks - in the currents and vortices of interpersonal
feeling, attachment and allegiance. All of this demands serious new thinking,
and poses awkward questions; and it may well lead us to a post-DOTS understanding
of our work. For, much of what more-and-more people now need to learn,
is no longer within reach of our conventional apparatus - or what we used
to call careers education and guidance.
so, before we kiss the twentieth century goodbye, take a moment to note
this: to think seriously, ask questions and be in a position to search
for progress is to risk having to listen to what youd rather not
hear. That may be un-cool, but - in careers work now its
is about thinking, asking and with luck - progress. At its heart
is the ability to frame useful questions. And that cant be left
to academics, politicos and researchers. People closer to the point-of-delivery
also ask questions. Many are provoked by contemporary change...
why do so many learners turn away from us?
> who do they believe can better help them?
> how come?
> why are commercial interests moving in?
> could any of this other help be more use than we are?
> or could it do damage?
> any hope of coordinating this scattering diversity?
> what would it do to our roles?
> and where are the support structures we, with our new partners, need?
is a lot of research worth doing here. And all of these issues are currently
under scrutiny in a trial development of the forthcoming National Guidance
Research Forum (NGRF). If they are your questions, you should have your
say. If they are not, you should especially have your say. Disengagement
from issues like these would not be cool, it would be frigid.
is true that not all research is meant to be immediately useful to practice.
Much recent work has been directed at showing why guidance is valuable;
and it has been policy-driven. Conclusions are variations on the theme,
guidance is a good thing, and there should be more of it.
It is not hard to see why, ten-or-more years ago, we needed to defend
the work in these terms.
there has not been as much about how careers work helps, and in
changing conditions how it can most significantly help. In current
careers-work, the message more of the same leaves us empty-handed
on the issue what next?. Yesterdays questions do not
point to todays answers.
inputs, processes and
how can practitioners usefully get involved? Research is centrally concerned
with matters expressed in words like data, ethics,
hypothesis, correlation, and ethnography
- the language of methodology. It comes down to ensuring credibility.
No room for manoeuvre here and neither should there be.
research method is a process - linking an input to an outcome. Things
can go wrong at all three stages what goes in, what goes on, and
what comes out. But it is at the first and last of these stages that people
- who may have so-far stood outside the research community - can usefully
At the input stage there are issues about what is worth researching. The
value of research depends absolutely on the usefulness of the questions
it poses. The terms in which such questions are asked are often framed
by politicos and their apparatchiks, as well as by managers and academics.
But, in order to ask a really good question, you need already to know
something about what is going on.
Furthermore, as research produces outcomes of research there are issues
about how the knowledge can best be used. The research report usually
incorporates an executive summary. The word executive seems
to imply that someone is going to know what to do about it. But this is
not as straightforward a matter as might appear. We face recurring claims
for evidence-based practice; but there is rarely a simple relationship
between finding something out and doing something about it.
is on the complexity of these input and outcome issues that people-other-than-researchers
have something useful to say about research. If people are to recognise
the usefulness of research in their work, then they need to be heard -
both on the terms in which enquiry is set up, and also on the terms in
which its findings and recommendations are framed.
Good researchers many of them former practitioners - already do
much of what is called for here. They talk about how most usefully to
voice sponsors concerns, and they discuss how the new knowledge
may be used. They design outputs, so that the people who need to act on
the research know what the viable options are and what makes them
viable. But where they do not do this, research becomes a closed circle,
framing the evidence with ready-made thinking.
From where the not-very-easily impressed practitioner sits, such research
is a turn-off. It squanders the input; but, more seriously, it undermines
belief in the value of research. It is a circle that the NGRF must not
the critical step from knowing to doing is, itself,
a further process which is always taken locally. Research informs
practice, sure; but it cannot do so as prescription. The way in which
questions need to be addressed, and answers framed, is different in different
places, at different times and for different groups. And so there is always
some locally specific thing to be done about what is generally recommended.
research signposts what is happening, what might happen, and what makes
it happen. That means pointing not just to evidence, but to key factors,
probable causes and reasonable anticipations. That work can never claim
that its evidence shows what must happen everywhere; local complexity
makes its task much more subtle than that.
medics book on research, with its use of indicators
and contra-indicators, could be useful: research might do
more to identify the indicators for the conditions in which what
works works - because nothing works for everything; and research
could also identify contra-indications - because even what works
can also have unwanted effects.
may suspect that observations along these lines are an attempt at producer
capture professionals trying to protect their patch by obfuscation.
It happens; but what is also true is that research needs practice as much
as practice needs research. The deal requires that practitioners are not
arbitrarily defensive and that they speak with a credible understanding
of what is happening on their patch. Claims that guidance is invariably
a good thing, and there should be more of it everywhere are not
going to help.
authority of practice is certainly no less credible than that of politicos,
academia and those other influential people that sponsor and shape the
research agenda. Practitioner authority is not a lesser authority, but
a different authority and a necessary one.
In careers work, if research cannot lead to improvements, then it is not
working. That is the value in the call for evidence-based practice. But
it all carries a challenge to the NGRF: to enable all stakeholders to
find their voice - for serious thinking, awkward questions and credible
hopes. It will mean that we will all, from time to time, find ourselves
attentively listening to what in cooler moments - we might have
thought we would never want to hear. But the resulting discourse will
match the call for evidence-based practice with a call for practice-based
are in the magazine section of
The Career-learning Café
information about the NGRF
more about a
to the magazine front page
back to café career magazine
- in touch articles
is not going to be easier on anybodys blood pressure."
of what people now need to learn, is no longer within reach of careers
education and guidance."
from issues like these would not be cool, it would be frigid."
questions do not point to todays answers."
value of research depends absolutely on the usefulness of the questions
"There is rarely
a simple relationship between finding something out and doing something
can becomes a closed circle, framing ready-made thinking. Such research
is a turn-off. It squanders the input and undermines belief in the value
works? Nothing works for everything. And even what works
can have unwanted effects."
must match the call for evidence-based practice with a call for practice-based