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The Truth Is Out There?

we do not describe the world we see, but we see the world we describe Joseph Jaworski

Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to examine implications of community learning and
development (CL&D) moving towards an evidence-based practice (EBP) model.
What role does EBP play in assessing evidence around our profession, and the
impact of professionalisation and professionalism of our field? Does EBP show us
what will work, or what has worked? How does personal understanding of the
practitioner impact on both the evidence and ongoing practice?
Gibbs and Gambrill (2002, pg452) say
Evidence-based practice is designed to create professionals who are
lifelong learners who draw on practice-related research findings and
involve clients and informed participants in decisions made
However, as Davies (2003, pg98) draws attention
The proponents of evidence-based practice propose an unproblematic
relationship between research and practice, and also amongst policy,
research and practice. At first glance the idea of evidence-based
practice appears to be so obviously desirable (like universal literacy or
continuous improvement) that it might be regarded as a truism. Who
could argue against the idea that professional practice should be
based on evidence?
There are many terms in use around EBP, and the definition is not universal. The
other terms are practitioner-led research and practitioner enquiry. To me, EBP is an
examination of practice, led by the practitioner, framed with a purposeful question, a
critical, conscientious review of current best evidence, used in practice to help make
the best decisions. It is a view of what has worked in the past, then practitioner tacit
knowledge comes into play to help deal with uncertain outcomes as Schon (1983,
pg50) describes
makes innumerable judgements of quality for which he cannot
state adequate criteria, and he displays skills for which he cannot
state the rules and procedures ... [] ... It is this entire process of
reflection-in-action which is central to the 'art' by which practitioners

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

sometimes deal with situations


uniqueness and value conflict

of

uncertainty,

instability,

What is Evidence?
Evidence can be a contested term. A positivist stance on evidence is a qualitative,
what can be measured, collection of hard facts and empirical data numbers of
attendees, achievements, and budget spent. Positivism
argues that, since the only possible content of true statements is
fact, it is scientific method that reveals facts about the world, Scientific
method is the set of rules that guarantee accurate representation; a
correspondence what reality is and how it is represented in knowledge.
There are fundamental expressible as universal generalizations
governing both the natural and social worlds and discoverable through
scientific activity. Positivism therefore equates legitimacy with science
(albeit an idealized picture of science) and scientific method (in the
sense of a set of general methodological rules) (Scott and Usher,
2011, pp12 - 13)

An interpretivist view point as Scott and Usher (2011, pg29) describe


In interpretivism, research takes everyday experience and ordinary life
as subject matter and asks how meaning is constructed and social
interaction negotiated in social practices. Human action is inseparable
from meaning, experiences are classified and ordered through
interpretive frames, through pre-understandings mediated by tradition.

The majority of CL&D practitioners have become fairly proficient at the more
positivist evidence collection e.g. participant numbers, attendance and
achievements. What we have not been so good at capturing and exploiting is the
more qualitative evidence that illustrates the role CL&D can have in improving
peoples lives. How do we meaningfully link personal journeys to the kind of data that
governmental, local authority or funders need?
What do we, as CL&D practitioners, see as evidence, and how do we gather it? My
own interpretivist view leans towards more qualitative data, and critical analysis of
this. One method of achieving a more rounded view of qualitative data is to use
Brookfields 4 lenses. (1995, pp29 39) Using this we can perhaps show a
correlation between our work and the outcomes.

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

Evidence can range across artefacts from the positivist hard data, to more
interpretivist photos, case studies, evaluations, our reflections, and feedback from
partners and participants. It is important to be aware of the source of each piece of
evidence and the slant the author may put on it. In good practice, we would critically
analyse, using tools such as Brookfields 4 lenses (1991, pp29-29) our evidence to
take into account learner/participant view, our own view, theory and that of partners
and colleagues.
EBP has grown from medicine and travelled across professional boundaries into
education, CL&D and other areas of practice (Biesta, 2007, pg6). The links between
treatment in a medical setting and outcome are perhaps easier to plot a direct
relationship that the less obvious impacts of any CL&D intervention. However,
Hammersley quotes Davies that medicine and health care [] face very similar, if
not identical, problems of complexity, context-specificity, measurement and
causation to education (Davies 1999:112) (2001)
Evidence based practice allows us to get to grips with information in a way that
relying on databases and other sources of data can limit (Briggs, verbal input, PGDip
CL&D workshop, 20/01/16). When we examine our practice, we can identify what we
require. The questions can be directly relevant, rather than having to use what is
already there. The process of database information collection and input can filter the
usefulness of the raw data into something that has limited relevance very little of
the data we require in CL&D is simple to categorise and is rarely a binary answer.
Database input can also take a considerable amount of time, so data may be out of
date by the time we access it. Data can often be less complicated than the situation
we are examining. (Discussion at Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership
with Improvement Scotland, October 2015)

Why not Evidence-based practice?


Hammersley discusses the criticism that the very name EBP is a slogan whose
rhetorical effect is to discredit opposition. (2001, pg1) Biesta agrees, using notions
such as evidence-informed, evidence-influenced and evidence-aware practice
and goes on to state
I am not convinced that evidence-based practice as it is currently
being presented and promoted provides the most appropriate
matrix for addressing this issue [] The focus on what works
makes it difficult if not impossible to ask the questions of what it
should work for and who should have a say in determining the
latter (2007, pg5)

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

Arguing against the importance of basing practice on sound evidence sounds


irrational. Surely best practice follows a robust examination into practice and
innovative work will follow? Hammersley additionally says
practice would be improved if practitioners were more familiar with
the results of research. I also accept that there is scope for more
directly policy- and practice-relevant educational research. Furthermore,
I applaud the emphasis within some accounts of evidence-based
practice on the needs for professional reflection and judgement about
the validity and value of various kinds of evidence in making decisions
(2001, pg1)
One of the underlying assumptions on the value of research is that we have the
knowledge to read it as a positivist scientist would understanding the background
issues, samples, researcher interpretation and validity of the evidence presented
with a critical eye, and not just accept it as fact. Very few professionals have the
skills and necessary time to be able to do this. Another assumption is that we can
predict change in a linear manner, and that any intervention has a direct, causal
impact on the outcome.
There is also a debate on whether EBP is a neutral framework that is transferrable
across disciplines, and whether it is an effective form of enquiry, which Biesta (2007,
pg9) queries if professional action implied in evidence-based practice: the idea that
education can be understood as a technological process in which there is a clear
separation between means and end
Within the use of EBP, Foucaults idea of the normalising gaze can play a part in the
practitioner self-regulating to best practice as currently described.
There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just
a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its
weight will end by interiorising to the point that he is his own overseer,
each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against,
himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what
turns out to be a minimal cost. (Foucault 1980:155)
Davies ties this in to being accountable and transparent
in internalised structures of surveillance [] each professional person
(more or less) willingly took up multiple forms of self-surveillance and
correction in order to become legitimate subjects, accountable to
themselves and others. Their value in their professional lives was tied,
in part, to their capability to do so, but also to their professional
expertise and knowledge. (2003, pg92)

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

Why Evidence-Based Practice?


Gambrill and Gibbs (2002, pg453; citing Sackett et al 1997) Evidence-based
practice is the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in
making decisions about the care of individual [clients]
In the move towards greater professional transparency and a more accountable
structure of working, being driven by tighter budgets in a time of austerity, justifying
the quality of outcomes; there is a greater requirement to evidence the impact of the
role of community learning and development. (Briggs, verbal input, PGDip CL&D
workshop, 20/01/16)
The use of EBP can help our profession to evidence need, and to channel resources
to enable us to prioritise and target the input to where it will make the greatest
difference and possibly protect against cuts to service. It can also be a great tool to
help identify gaps, and recognise achievement.
Gathering the evidence was frequently linked to job security and
influencing the relevant decision makers, elected members and
council senior officials and funders in the voluntary sector. (Briggs
and McArdle, 2012, pg27)
On a more personal, practitioner level, EBP encourages self-evaluation and critical
reflection on work. It can also keep us motivated to see the changes we can affect in
the people we work with. Additionally, it can be used to celebrate personal success.
evidence gathering was most strongly linked to professional
development of the CL&D worker and improvement of professional
practice. This implies that gathering evidence is embedded in the
professional profile of our respondents for internal as well as the
more formal external purposes. (Briggs and McArdle, 2012, pg29)
Within the field of EBP, the research gathered is at a different level to external
research which can be very top down.
As we work more in partnership settings, it can be useful to seek out assumptions
that may be boundary issues across the fields of work, and not obvious to everyone
in the partnership. EBP can be used as a negotiating tool to build understanding and
challenge the tensions and assumptions made. Sachs references this approach as
It demands not that each party inhabit each others castles, as Somekh (1994)
suggests, but rather, that each party at least looks inside the others castle. (2000,
pg82)

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

The Limits of Evidence-based Practice


Research has its limits, and will not give the answer or the truth as EBP is
subjective being an interpretivist tool. It requires the use of professional judgement
to stay cognizant of the research being one factor in what worked, an awareness of
the differences in the practice environment and the individual nature of participants.
Biesta quotes Dewey
Thinking, deliberation cannot solve problems, nor can it guarantee
that the chosen response will be successful. What it can do is make
the process of choosing more intelligent than it would have been in
the case of blind trial and error (2007: pg15)
This shows the importance of keeping a balance between relying solely on one
method or another it is insufficient to rely on evidence and research, but equally as
flawed not to be aware of theory and personal experience.
There is a possible concern that evidence may be interpreted and used differently
between highly-motivated and well-trained staff than it might be in a service which
has been starved of resources and does not have the same skills base (Workshop
discussion, PG dip CLD students, Jan 2016)
There is a drive to ensure that any research does not stagnate, and is part of a
process of continual dialogue around improving outcomes that is not removed from
the social, physical and cultural context they operate in.

How do we utilise theory?


It can be very easy to focus on new information and new ways of looking at a
situation, when often tying into theory can illuminate alternative routes.
As Brookfield states
Embedded as we are in our cultures, histories, and contexts, it is
easy for us to slip into the habit of generalizing from the particular.
Reading theory can jar us in a productive way, by offering unfamiliar
interpretations of familiar events and by suggesting other ways of
working (1995, p. 186).
We can use theory in more practical ways, to assist with our own reflective practice,
and also to form part of the structure of any evidence-based research.
This research does not always involve participants, so the learners lens from
Brookfield may be redundant, as it may be a desk-based review or literature that is
the core of the enquiry, whereas in others it may be a more collaborative, participant
Dawn Cara Brown,
student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

approach that is favoured. This more participative method may well find critical
friends who can assist in our reflective practice, and challenge our assumptions.

Professionalism or Professionalization?
One of the drivers towards EBP, is to help define the role of CL&D practitioners and
to give greater credence to the profession. Hargreaves states Professionalism
(improving quality and standards of practice) and professionalization (improving
status and standing) are often presented as complementary projects (improve
standards and you will improve status), but sometimes they are contradictory.
(2010: pg152)
Professionalism within the context of Hargreaves writing is about peer values, a
collaborative approach to a common agreed professional culture, with common
purpose to deal with rapidly changing environments and to deal with reform in a
landscape that is often uncertain and complex. (2000, pg 165) This also ties in with
Wengers theory of learning being a social model, and that we learn and improve
more when we work with others with shared interests. Communities of Practice: a
way of talking about the shared historical and social resources, frameworks, and
perspectives that can sustain mutual engagement in action (ed. Illeris, 2009,
Wenger, pp209-218). Within the debate around professionalism, Nocon references
the issue of professional ignorance (1989, pg34). Simply put, many professions have
evolved their own set of tacit knowledge, and ways of working that may seem
mystical to those out with their circles.
As CL&D face cuts in services and budgets, many practitioners feel the need to
improve the standing of our role. Professionalization can often be seen as
gatekeeping, and requires qualifications to be accepted as a professional, for
example, lawyers, teachers and doctors. Often this is an area of contest between
professions as people justify their role and defend their territory. Eraut sees the
prime reason for having a professional qualification can be seen as quality
assurance. (1994, pg213)
There can also be an institutional bias away from EBP, towards managerial
professionalism, where practitioners are one, often fairly low-level, link in a long line
of accountability structures, and less likely to feel engaged and autonomous. The
more democratic form of professionalism is about working together with
stakeholders, engendering a broader understanding. These two approaches can be
on opposing sides of the discussion, with unions and professional bodies preferring
the democratic approach where employers may favour the managerial route, where
the underlying premise is one of good management and robust structure being the
best way forward. (Sachs: 2000)

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

The World We Describe?


EBP is, on balance, a seemingly worthy idea. As long as caution is exercised
about seeing it as the truth, and being aware of the complexities of research
collating, using, evaluating, sharing and using in daily practice within CL&D.
We also need to keep in mind that we do not see what has worked as being a
template for all future work. An important aspect of it working well is when it is
used in conjunction with the tacit knowledge of the practitioner, their appraisal
of the situation, their judgment, a sound theoretical base and alongside the
policies in place.

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

References
Biesta, G. (2007) Why What Works Wont Work: Evidence-based Practice
and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research Educational Theory 57
(1)
Briggs, S and McArdle, K. (2012) Statistics and Stories: Generating Evidence
of Youth Work Effectiveness A Journal of Youth Work, Issue 10, 2012, (pp2336)
Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco,
Jossey-bass
Davies, B. (2003) Death to Critique and Dissent? The Policies and Practices of
New Managerialism and Evidence-based Practice, Gender and Education,
Volume 15 Number 1, (pp91-103)
Eraut, M (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence,
London, Falmer Press
Foucault, M. (1980) the eye of power. In C. Gordon (ed.) Power/Knowledge:
Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault.
Sussex: Harvester Press
Gibbs, L. and Gambrill E (2002) Evidence-Based Practice: Counterarguments
to Objections, Research on Social Work Practice, Volume 12 Number 3, May
2006 (pp452-476)
Hammersley, M. (2001) Some Questions About Evidence-Based Practice in
Education, Symposium paper, Annual Conference of the British Educational
Research Association, Education-line
Hargreaves, A. (2000) Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional,
Learning, Teachers and Teaching, 6:2, 151-182
Illeris, K (editor) (2009) Contemporary Theories of Learning, Learning
Theorists in their own words, Abingdon, Routledge (pp209-218)
Nocon, A. (1989) Forms of Ignorance and Their Role in the Joint Planning
Process, Social Policy & Administration, Volume 23, Number 1
Sachs, J (2000) The Activist Professional, Journal of Educational Change,
Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 77-94
Scott, D, and Usher, R. (2011) Researching Education (2nd Edition). London,
GB: Continuum
Taylor, M (2003) Public Policy in the Community, Hampshire, Palgrave
Dawn Cara Brown,
student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Other sources.
Biggs, S. Verbal input at CL&D workshop, 20/01/16
Discussions with Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership, October 2015
Discussions with classmates at PG Dip CL&D 20/01/16

Dawn Cara Brown,


student ID 51554139

Enquiring Professionalism, Task 2

1st February 2016