Sunday 14 December 2014

Research Leads Conference and Evidence-Based Practice - How to avoid re-inventing the wheel

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending ResearchED's Research Leads one-day conference.  It was an incredible day full of intellectual challenge mixed with the opportunity to meet some wonderful colleagues.  However, what was deeply ironic given that the event was being held in the Franklin Wilkins building at Kings' College London, and which is named after two of the discoverers of the 'double-helix', was that we were not standing on the 'shoulders of giants'.  Many of the issues and topics which we wrestled with have already, to a very large extent, been engaged with by practitioners in the fields of evidence-based medicine and more generically evidence-based practice.
     So how do we go about standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly with reference to the role of a research-lead in a school and how research-leads could go about performing their task.  Both Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick did an admirable job in trying to map out the territory for the research-lead and some of the roles and tasks that need to be performed.  For me a fantastic starting point for building upon this discussion is the work of Barends, Rousseau, & Briner's (2014) and their pamphlet on the basic principles of evidence-based management.  Barends* et al state:

From the point of view of a school-research lead this definition has a number of implications.
  1. Being a research-lead involves more than just 'academic' research, it involves drawing upon a wider range of evidence - including both individual school data and the views of stakeholders, such as staff, pupils, parents and the wider community.
  2. This approach can be largely independent of work with higher education institutions.  It is not necessary to partner with a HEI to be an evidence-based practitioner or evidence-based school. It might help, specifically when supporting staff develop as evidence-based practitioner but it's not absolutely necessary.
  3. At the heart of this process is being able to translate school issues or challenges into a well formulated and answerable problem and evidence-based medicine has a number of tools which can help with this process.
      So what does this mean for the research lead's role in a school? Well a highly relevant place to start is to look at those leadership capabilities which appear to have the biggest impact on student and in this case teacher learning.    Given that we a seeking to develop processes which are 'research' led there is no better place to start than the work of Viviane Robinson on Student-Centred Leadership, which is based on both a best-evidence synthesis of the impact of leadership on student achievement, and which identifies three key leadership capabilities: applying relevant knowledge; solving complex problems and building relational trust.  Below I have begun to  tentatively examine what this might mean for research leads, so here goes:
  • Applying relevant knowledge - this about using knowledge about effective research in order to help colleagues become better practitioners, for example, helping to ask well-formulated and answerable questions.
  • Solving complex problems - research is a tricky and slippery topic and it's about discerning the specific research challenges faced by a school and then crafting research processes in order to address those challenges.
  • Building relational trust - which is an absolute pre-requisite for such work.  Research leads need to gain the trust of colleagues, otherwise it will be virtually impossible to develop a research agenda in schools.  And in undertaking this role, this require a specific set of skills which will allow both the research lead and practitioner to engage in effective evidence-based practice.
In order to help with the development of the role of the research-leads the next few posts in this series will draw upon material from both the evidence-based medicine and the broader field of evidence-based practice to look at the following:
  • How to get better at asking well-formulated questions.
  • How to write a short-paper on a Critically Appraised Topic
  • Some of the current challenges faced by evidence-based practitioners, particularly in the field of medicine.
*This definition is partly adapted from the Sicily statement of evidence-based practice: Dawes, M., Summerskill, W., Glasziou, P., Cartabellotta, A., Martin, J., Hopayian, K., Porzsolt, F., Burls, A., Osborne, J. (2005). Sicily statement on evidence-based practice. BMC
Medical Education, Vol. 5 (1).
Barends, E., Rousseau, D. M., & Briner, R. B. 2014. Evidence-Based Management : The Basic Principles. Centre for Evidence Based Management (Ed.). Amsterdam.
Robinson, V. (2011) Student-Centered Leadership, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco


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