Together with three colleagues from IRISS I spent part of last week at the Third International Workshop on Evidence-informed Practice. The first was held in 2008 at Dartington, the initiative of RiP and RiPfA, while the second was organised by PART (Practice and Research Together) in Toronto in 2010 – although unfortunately the Icelandic ash prevented the European groups from attending. This year it was the turn of Ireland (NUI Galway and Queen’s University Belfast) who hosted sixty of us from ten different countries on a magnificent rural estate by Cavan.
I should make it clear that I have little truck with large international events where delegates have little in common, the chance of encountering the same person twice is unlikely, and the opportunity to forge relationships of lasting value even less so. This set up however is different. The original idea was to bring together those from social services involved in that relatively untrod territory between research and practice – ‘research utilisation’, ‘knowledge brokerage’, call it what you will. Although I have to admit I was taken aback by the term ‘purveyor’ which was applied to us at one stage. Sounds a bit like a pipeline, and, in the same way as ‘knowledge transfer’, doesn’t have much of a sense of partnership or co-production. Whatever the label, it was good to be at an event where there was a commonality of purpose, you didn’t have to engage in all the preliminaries of trying to explain your endeavor in a cocktail sentence, and you could (just about) remember the names of everyone there.
Each group was charged with introducing themselves with a performance relating to their country. Through the inspiration of Claire we chose to read Edward Morgan’s wonderful poem composed for the opening of the Scottish Parliament and recited on that occasion by Liz Lochhead. We took the precaution of circulating pictures of the Parliament to give meaning to the description and left copies for those whose command of English might not have extended to a ‘nest of fearties’ or ‘the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’’. Most particularly we hoped that the invitation to open and robust debate would serve as a metaphor for the three days.
Much of this debate took place outwith the formal sessions. Perhaps we should all have a bit more courage in demanding that people read papers in advance and free the time at such events – where the format is ideal – for open space and unconference type activities (people – and indeed Wikipedia – tell me unconference is the current lingo!). Indeed perhaps there is an opportunity to echo (with apologies) Morgan: ‘do you want classic papers and predictable responses? A growl of old academic grandeur? Not here, no thanks! But bring together the unexpected and the innovative, the challenge and the riposte; the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons.’ Let us see where it leads.