This week I spent a day with the inimitable RURU (research unit for research utilisation) team and others at the University of St Andrews. In recent years the team, led by Huw Davies and Sandra Nutley, have brought together people from different backgrounds and disciplines to talk and think about knowledge mobilisation in all its diverse forms. These informal events are always a brilliant space for meeting others who are grappling with many of the sticky, slippery and downright elusive concepts surrounding knowledge mobilisation and use. You can find out more about their previous events on their website. This week’s event, which was organised in conjunction with Health and Care Research Wales, was particularly exciting. The focus was on ‘facilitating meaningful dialogue around diverse kinds of knowledge’ and so many words in that title instantly appealed to me. I was sure I was going to be in for a real treat. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed!
A couple of weeks before the event, we were all sent some pre-reading to give us some background on the different approaches to facilitating dialogue that we would consider on the day. These papers in themselves were fascinating and certainly helped to whet my appetite for more discussion. The 6 papers considered 5 specific approaches, and one overarching ‘philosophy’ (with some practical implications). On the day presentations about each of the approaches were interspersed with opportunities for discussion and learning in small groups about things like the underlying epistemology of the approach and resource implications. The approaches we considered were:
Dialogue and Deliberation – this was presented by Oliver Escobar and focuses on the importance of engaging in open, exploratory learning and building understanding and relationships before groups of people move towards actively deliberating different alternatives and making decisions.
Thinking together – this was presented by Neil Mercer who highlighted the importance and purpose of exploratory talk as a learning mechanism and the role of the facilitator in modelling how language can be used for collective thinking, establishing ground rules and creating the conditions for debate and joint reasoning.
Community of Enquiry – this was presented by Sue Lyle who talked us through the community philosophy approach which focuses on using a structured method to explore and discuss common, contestible concepts in order to bring about individual and shared learning.
Caring Conversations – this was presented by Belinda Dewar who focused on the importance of appreciative dialogue and the role of modelling open, appreciative questioning to support joint learning and action.
Appreciative Inquiry – this was presented by Roger Rowett who talked us through the principles and theory underpinning appreciative inquiry and the 5D methodology which involves Defining the purpose of the process; Discovering positive experiences (what is going well); Dreaming the future; Designing actions to spread good practice; Delivering the future via personal and organisational commitments.
Practical Wisdom – this idea was presented to us by David Rooney (via video), whose paper focused on how to develop and appreciate wise practice by understanding and reflecting on the values which underpin our lives and work.
As ever, the presentations were interesting, but it was in the discussion afterwards that I started to make connections, explore what I thought and the implications for my work. I started to think more deeply about the role of questions in helping people to share knowledge with each other and what those questions should look like, how exploratory talk helps me (and others) to ‘theorise’ out loud without needing to have my thoughts fully formed, and the role of these approaches in helping groups of people to make decisions together.
At the end of the day we had an opportunity to experience a ‘Community of Enquiry’, which was facilitated by Sue. This was probably one of the most exciting parts of the day for me, as I have some experience of this approach already and have had some training as a facilitator (more to come in part 2…) We had a brilliant discussion where we explored the question ‘what are the grounds for optimism for the use of dialogic approaches?’ As a result we all left with our ‘tails up’ (as someone put it), buoyed with the possibilities that these approaches offered us.
Of course, as ever, I was also left with several questions and thoughts, which I share below.
- Lots of these techniques seem to take time and space, but do any of them offer things that we can use ‘on the hoof’ in our practice as knowledge mobilisers?
- What is the difference between knowledge mobilisation processes and learning/education?
- These techniques seem to share the stance that knowledge is contestible, multifaceted and fluid and is constructed by groups of people. Can they be used with or by those who have a more black and white view of knowledge?
Do have a look at the linked materials and different techniques and let me know what you think about these or any of my questions using the comments section.