Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Maps, gaps and traps: how can multi-disciplinary research contribute to better communication across the great professional divides?

Keywords: multi-disciplinary research, methodological traditions in research, values and research, creating a research-aware culture

Authors: Kate Skinner (IRISS); Prof Stephen Baron (Strathclyde University); Prof Alan Gilloran (Queen Margaret University)

Within the disciplines of education, health and social services there are many internal 'silos, and working across and between them presents many challenges. Add multi-disciplinary working to the mix, and the possibilities for greater benefits for staff and service users increase, but so does the potential for confusion and disappointment. However, perhaps research could provide neutral territory in which staff from all professional groups could lay aside their anxieties and agree to learn from and with each other.
Inside all three professional groups there are exhortations to become reflective practitioners, but there is evidence that this process is regarded fearfully by staff, as anxieties about evaluating work and finding it less effective than had been assumed can be potentially overwhelming (Skinner and Whyte, 2005). The possibility that reflection and evaluation might give affirmation of work done is often overlooked.
Building research capacity is on the agenda for all, along with the need to enable staff to become research-literate, able to conduct modest research projects and able to apply research findings to daily practice. Is the notion of multi-disciplinary research an inhibitor, or could the greater scope for learning give added excitement, interest and value? The concern of practitioners, managers and policy-makers is that research clearly answers a given question, whereas researchers are concerned that studies are rigorous, robust and methodologically sound. Research findings are necessarily 'imprecise, complex and contingent' (Nutley and Davies, 2000. p. 35). Bringing these concerns together is essential if the groups are to understand each other and if the culture is to change so that practitioners become research-literate, research producers and research users.
In this Symposium experienced researchers in health, education and social services will lead a debate on what works in this important area.

Multi-disciplinary research and practice are properly the concern of practitioners, managers, researchers and policy makers and this Symposium will examine how all of these are conducted and received to take a step towards a shared understanding across the professions.

Date: Wednesday 23 January 2008, 3.30-4.30

Venue: Harris One

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).