On March 18th 2021, the Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI) at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Research Lab on Digital Education Governance at Helmut-Schmidt-Universität (HSU) in Hamburg hosted an exciting online event to explore strategies for building data literacy with the teaching profession at global scale.
We organised this event to facilitate professional conversations about the growing datafication of the education field, including quantitative performance measurement, algorithm-based learning analytics and various other forms of data-driven governance.
Teachers around the globe are not only increasingly required to produce, analyse and use data in their work, but are equally subject to problematic impacts of data (e.g. performative accountability and the rising power of EdTech companies or data agencies). To protect and enhance teacher professional autonomy today, the profession must continually develop its understanding of how data, algorithms and education technologies are actively reshaping schooling.
Data literacy is important in order to (1) make appropriate use of available data, (2) contest detrimental uses of data; and (3) develop alternative uses of data and/or alternatives to data-driven approaches.
While scholars around the world are increasingly bringing attention to the complexities and challenges of datafication in education – thus sharpening our understanding of what data literacy should entail – there is a pressing need to engage actively with the profession, including teacher organizations. Teacher organizations play a crucial role in setting and contesting political agendas in education and in helping to translate academic research for their members.
Recognising the need for stronger alliances between academic researchers and teacher organisations in relation to this important issue, the Building Data Literacy with the Teaching Profession at Global Scale workshop brought together nearly 100 academics, teacher organisation staff and other colleagues to discuss needs, challenges and promising strategies for developing data literacy and building new collaborative networks.
The workshop opened with keynote presentations on the present state of datafication in education and the challenges it creates.
Professor Bob Lingard (Catholic University Brisbane) provided an overview of ongoing datafication research in schooling globally.
During the midday session, participants discussed data literacy initiatives from various countries and educational contexts in parallel breakout sessions. A list of all initiatives, including abstracts and contact information can be found below.
In the afternoon, all participants returned for a plenary discussion of the work of teacher organizations in relation to datafication, digital technologies and algorithms. Presenters from Education International and from teacher unions in Germany and Belgium, as well as an academic researcher working closely with and the Iceland teachers union, discussed their perspectives on fostering data literacy with teachers and collaborating with academic researchers.
We would like to thank all participants and keynote speakers for a highly inspiring event! Feedback indicated that the workshop sparked a number of productive discussions andhelped to establish new connections and ideas for developing this important agenda further.
By Sam Sellar (Manchester Metropolitan University), Sigrid Hartong (Helmut-Schmidt-Universität) and the organizing team.
On April 12th every year, those of us who work and conduct research with street-connected young people mark the international day for street children. As the Consortium for Street Children highlight, we want to support street-connected young people by:
Ensuring they have the same access to services, resources, care and opportunities that other young people have.
Amplifying their voices so they can make their views known.
Putting an end to the discrimination they face on a daily basis.
This year, as access to services is at the forefront of our thinking on #StreetChildrenDay, I am providing a summary of a research project conducted in collaboration with colleagues at Glad’s House in Kenya in relation to street-connected young people’s opinions and experiences of education, and how the findings of this research confirm how a sense of (not) belonging affects a learner’s engagement and performance in school.
Experiences of formal schooling as rationale for inclusive pedagogies of practice
This study, funded by the British Academy (Grant code: SRG 170976), aimed to build on the research skills of the social work and education teams at Glad’s House to develop qualitative methods of data generation that could be integrated into their daily programmes of work for more meaningful monitoring and evaluation. After a workshop on qualitative research methods, Kevin and Irene piloted the use of walking interviews, drawings, and image elicitation interviews, aiming to understand the education-related opinions and experiences of young people who had been street-connected for extended periods of time. Lillian conducted focus group activities with young men for whom she provided counselling support.
The findings, which are discussed in more detail in a 2020 paper that also discusses my doctoral research conducted in another part of Kenya (Corcoran 2016), highlight:
a) how some young people’s negative experiences education were a reason for dropping out and initially migrating to the street;
b) how fear, embarrassment, and shame of being out-of-school for an extended period of time, and/or being street-connected, prevents young people from going (back) into formal education; and
c) how acceptance and support are key to overcoming feelings of not belonging and the challenges faced by street-connected young people transitioning into schools.
It is possible to say that street-connected young people do not leave the street. They may be physically removed from the space, but their experiences of leaving and continuing through education suggest that street-connectedness is not spatially or temporally constrained. Young people develop emotional ties to the people and opportunities found on the street, and may have fled difficult home situations. Therefore, becoming street-connected is a process of becoming and making sense of the self within the context of the interactional space thought of as the street; and leaving the street involves another process of becoming in which street-connected identities continue to be constructed and re-constructed in relation to their new situations.
As young people transition into new communities, or return to old ones, they figure a sense of belonging in relation to their experiences of the transition and the interactions they have with others in that community. They are therefore able to settle into schools better when they feel supported and accepted, influencing long-term aspects such as academic performance or the roles that they envision for themselves at home and in society.
Therefore, as we attempt to negotiate street-connected young people’s transition into schools, especially within societies that uphold negative views about young people being on the street, it is important to develop welcoming learning environments, acceptance and support from teachers, and frameworks for friendship and peer support. We need to think beyond access to education and getting children into school, to consider long-term strategies that provide effective support systems – building trusting relationships between these young people and social work teams, building self-confidence and well-being through effective reintegration programmes that strengthen connections with family, school, and the community, and advocating for the provision of further support systems.
Developing inclusive communities
In a recent paper written with Dimi Kaneva from the University of Huddersfield, we focus on the need to develop inclusive communities in formal education settings by looking at the learners of English as an additional language in the UK and street-connected young people in Kenya. In the paper, we explore the importance of listening to young people and how notions of belonging and positioning help to understand educational experiences that can inform the development of effective inclusive practice.
We highlight the limited focus on transitions in education, especially for marginalised learners, in both policy and academic literature and the need for a sustained focus on supportive, inclusive pedagogies of teaching and learning for all learners making transitions into or between levels of an education system, and in the months that follow. We need to better understand learners’ experiences through shared narratives and dialogue, starting with the learners’ experiences to develop pedagogies and foster inclusive communities within and beyond schools.
Su Corcoran is a research associate at ESRI. She would like to acknowledge her coauthors on the two papers highlighted in the blog post above – Irene Aluoch, Lillian Awimbo, Dimi Kaneva and Kevin Mugwanga. Glad’s House is an organisation in Mombasa, Kenya that works with street-connected young people. You can find out more about what they do at www.gladshouse.com.
Corcoran, S. (2016). Leaving the street? Exploring transition experiences of street-connected children and youth in Kenya. Doctoral dissertation. Manchester: University of Manchester.
Coproduction of knowledge and participatory research are all the more important in the context of COVID-19. Social distancing, emergency legislation, and a lack of institutional transparency and accountability are likely to exacerbate current inequalities and further disempower those voices historically excluded by society. At a time of extreme pressure on the welfare state, there are also opportunities to “shake up” the system and including marginalised voices in this process of change is all the more important. Research can play a crucial role in bringing these voices closer to the ears of policymakers.
In a recent event part of the ESRC’s Festival of Science, Sonia Bussu and Nigel Allmark from MMU spoke with Suzy Solley and Mat Amp from Groundswell about the opportunities and challenges for coproducing research at a time of social distancing. Groundswell is a national charity who provide people facing homelessness the opportunity to coproduce solutions to homelessness through research and advocacy. Their work has an impact on both public policy and services.
The pandemic has been a time when the issue of homelessness has become central to public health. The spiralling economic crisis is putting many thousands of households into poverty and at risk of losing their homes. At a time of social distancing ensuring the voices of those experiencing homelessness are not lost is as important as it is challenging. The constraints imposed by the pandemic have forced the team to reinvent and develop some of their work in creative and powerful ways, which rely more on peer-led reporting and the use of new media, audio, photo and video to reach out to people and bring their voices together. A group of national reporters with experience of homelessness shared their own experience of COVID-19 and what was happening in their local area.
There are several challenges when trying to achieve this, from digital exclusion (which right now can raise ever-deeper barriers to participation) to the difficulty of supporting people emotionally and physically from a distance. The current situation has also triggered new thinking to adapt old models of working while continuing to invest in building meaningful relationships with the people involved in the peer-led reporting research. Reporters are supported remotely by a Groundswell mentor and have all the equipment they need for the role (phones, credit and tablets) to ensure nobody is out of pocket. As it has become harder to reach out to people, methods have also adapted. For instance, Groundswell have introduced data capture methods to allow non-research staff to input what they are experiencing on the ground.
Probably more than ever before coproduction of research is needed as an empowering process that can bring isolated people together around common needs and issues, contextualising what might otherwise feel like individual problems or ‘weaknesses’. In the typically risk averse homelessness sector, people with experience of homelessness often are not trusted. The opportunity to participate in research, and be trusted to do so, can be an important step in challenging unequal power relations. Issues of power differentials also exist within coproduced research and require careful negotiating of relationships, particularly when vulnerable people are involved. Vulnerability does not negate the fact that everyone has unique strengths. The word vulnerable can be problematic, because there is an assumption that participants might need protection and it promotes the self-empowerment of those who act as “protectors”. These ideas are often based on an underestimation of participants’ ability to resist power. The system often depicts people as ‘receivers’ of services so ‘giving back’, participating in research and feeding into responses to homelessness gives people an opportunity to correct the power imbalance. Importantly, key stakeholders from the National Health Service and Department of Health and Social Care are keen to listen and the shorter feedback loop that comes with mobile reporting means that crucial insight can get to them in real time.
Coproduction of research can help challenge the system of knowledge control established through mainstream research, as we try to change a status quo whose contradictions and unacceptable inequalities have been laid bare by Covid-19. At Groundswell volunteer reporters, researchers and advocates have a shared experience of homelessness and related traumas. These shared experiences mean that empathy and trust can be quickly built. Anyone who has faced homelessness has survived exceptionally difficult circumstances and has a great capacity to contribute new ideas to help rethink and strengthen the welfare state and the way society and institutions understand and respond to homelessness. In this way, we find that the process of conducting research for people experiencing homelessness can trigger current or existing trauma but revisiting those traumas can also be crucial in the process of healing. As one of Groundswell’s peer researchers explains:
“So the experience of meeting homeless people like you – not only the research it helps on a personal level like … when you’re feeling down, it brings back memories when you were in that situation. And how far you have come away. It reassures you that I am not doing that bad. It gives you some motivation”
What Groundswell has been able to maintain, in these exceptionally difficult times, is a team of people, many, but not all, with lived experience of homelessness, working together in an equal relationship where everyone’s strengths and vulnerabilities are equally recognised and valued.
Sonia Bussu, Suzy Solley, Nigel Allmark, and Mat Amp
This blog emerges from conversations about how participatory research should respond to the seismic shifts in communities and everyday lives that are unfolding as a result of Covid19. Our thinking emerges from a working group we have belonged to for the last 18 months, in which staff from Manchester Art Gallery (Katy, Naomi), MMU (Abi, Ruthie) and local Children’s Centres and nurseries explored ways in which we could work more closely with local families with babies. The pandemic has offered huge and unique challenges for new parents, babies, and those who work with them. At the same time, by challenging traditional ways of doing research, lockdown and physical distancing measures might create new spaces to question established orders of power, such as academic knowledge (Roy, 2020, Skeggs, 2020). Therefore, as a group we were interested in asking; could this challenge to settled ways of doing co-production also provoke us to imagine new ways of researching together?
Tacit knowledge, partially articulated things and the importance of what goes unsaid
Many methods of data collection have had to be adapted because of Covid19, and in the early months of lock down, there was an outpouring of knowledgeable, creative and innovative responses to the question of how to do participatory research alongside physical distancing. However, one of the things that started to nag in our minds was the extent to which many of these methods relied on knowledge that was fairly definite, explicit and easily conveyed in words. Classic participatory methods for working at a physical distance might include things such as interviews conducted over a video call, asking participants to keep a visual or written diary of their experiences, or shared spaces where participants can upload responses to prompts and questions. Whilst these methods can be incredibly powerful in some research contexts, they run up against many of the ways we are used to supporting, researching with and building relationships with communities, families and babies. These ways have tended to centre on time spent physically together, creating beautiful and immersive spaces that invite different kinds of interactions and conversations, tracing small moments (Stewart, 2007), bodily experiences and sensations, things that can be known through the body and partially articulated in writing. These aspects of lived experience with babies and toddlers are rarely articulated and often hard to explain. So what might we need to consider then, in terms of working in communities and with families with young children, during the time of physical distancing? Working with families often involves engaging with sensitive and complex family relationships and it is important to be able to account for things that go unsaid or are not fully explicated in words.
Our work together at Manchester Art Gallery
Since September 2019, a team of arts and early years practitioners and researchers have been meeting at Manchester Art Gallery to think about how babies and young children use the space. Until March 2020 we met regularly in the gallery to share research and experiences that helped us think about the space. We looked at artworks that might be exhibited, we followed routes around the gallery that children had taken before us and we shared examples of nursery visits. Our focus was to support Katy McCall, MAG’s Family Learning Manager, to create a new space for families in the gallery, due to open in May. When the gallery shut during the initial Covid-19 lockdown in March, building work had already begun to open up the space. Heavy shutters that had stopped the light from pouring in were pulled back, changing the quelled, quiet, low light gallery into a sunlit, open space.
When lockdown temporarily closed the gallery doors, we all held enough enthusiasm to continue meeting. We turned to Zoom, like so many other people around the world, but our conversations changed. We tried to continue our original track discussing how the new space could be used in response to what families would need ‘after lockdown’. We considered how to document family’s experiences, perhaps exhibiting a collection of ‘lockdown art’: NHS rainbows, window trails or home craft activities.
As the pandemic continued this thinking trailed off into the fog. Perhaps this was because we knew that these dominant narratives of children crafting away, joining Joe Wicks and zooming with friends were not everybody’s stories. We knew there were families without scissors and glue or wifi. Perhaps also because we felt too much was unknown. We felt the frustrations of the increasingly complex restrictions and plans for ‘once this is all over’ became faded and far away. Perhaps we changed direction because focusing on the space, whilst it was empty, was not urgent enough. Haraway suggests that ‘urgencies’ rather than emergencies ‘have other temporalities, these times are ours. These are the times that we must think; these are the times of urgencies that need stories.’ (Haraway, 2016:37).
The need for urgency was balanced with the need to build something meaningful, useful and delightful. The nature of our meetings changed to something more immediate. We met more regularly, our talk changed from thinking about the space to thinking about the current experiences of the families that would usually be in it. Step by step we made 100 boxes of sensory gifts and art making materials for babies and toddlers living within the city centre.
Though it was unintended, each box has become greater than the sum of its parts and, as the pandemic continues, has become significant in building relationships across the city. Delivering the boxes has become an opportunity for human contact. For some, this was a catch up on the doorstep, a chance to ask that niggling question or a moment to meet a new face. These moments on the doorstep between parents, possibly babies, practitioners, the boxes and the gallery tune into Kathleen Stewart’s (2007) work on tracing the flows of energy and intensity between people, things and places. These moments will continue as the boxes become the focus of social distanced play sessions for families to play with their own boxes in a shared space. As restrictions fluctuate, more boxes are being made and will likely be used in ways that we cannot yet imagine, moulded by the alive, immanent and unpredictable forces that will occur between the boxes, gallery and babies.
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble. Durham: Duke University Press.
This blog emerges from the Imagination, Margins and Tacit Knowledge ESRC Festival of Social Science event. For more information click here.
This is an attempt at an origin myth. A speculative writing of a future history. We aim to talk something into being. In lay person’s terms, this is a project that has happened yet. Starting co-produced projects is not impossible under lockdown and physical distancing but it is a gravity that works against the quality of emotional, relational and temporal investment in a project. There was a funding application but it fell at the last minute due to issues with partner commitments.
We begin with an 18-month dialogue between MMU and the Niamos theatre in Hulme. Our concern is the disparity between the rich cultural achievements of Hulme and the simplicity, lack of care and imagination of the various institutional and social policy interventions aimed at the area and those that live in it. Hulme has made profound contributions to the arts, cultural and political vibrancy of Manchester and without exaggeration through at least its music and fashion the world. So, as we encounter an issue we are interested in thinking, What Would Hulme Do?
This orientation suggested an approach to the issue of, from one perspective, increasing the diversity in the university and, from the other, expanding opportunities for young people in Hulme:
SODA, MMU’s new School of Digital Arts is looking to create educational spaces to increase the diverse of its students and so skills pipeline and so the future workforce of the region. SODA aims to be the region’s home of next generation storytelling so whose stories are told and who tells them is crucial. Unfortunately, many of the existing approaches to increasing diversity often fail to scratch the surface.
WWHD? Co-produced projects often begin in messy places and well set sail and navigate other messy spaces. So, one co-author (Duggan) thought the other (Ali) had produced an Afrofuturist pantomime at Niamos titled Snow White Privilege. As it turns out, the panto was not Afrofuturist but this error led to an interesting place. The idea was to co-produce an Afrofuturist intervention in SODA where the aim is not to integrate or accommodate racialised young people into an educational space but instead re-imagine the places, spaces, relationships and temporalities of digital education. The prospect of co-producing an Afrofuturist project to transform the university raised concerns of the ways in which co-production itself might work to shape, constrain and resist these research processes of imagining beyond the university from within and without.
It might not feel like it to those of us struggling with the lack of recognition for the emotional and relational labour involved in developing co-produced projects within the university but co-production is an institutionally sanctioned discourse, like participation, inclusion and diversity. Co-production is typically constituted from project management technologies, contractual relations, upholds liberal Intellectual Property rights and so on. We might question whether these dynamics constrain the bases on which co-production is advanced, to empower, enact equality and democracy, contribute to social justice. The point here is not to nitpick. Inspired by speculative pragmatic approaches, we seek to identify and explore new propositions that are interesting, work to situate us otherwise.
Re-imagining the practices of co-production through Afrofuturism is, if nothing else, interesting. It enables us to learn the lessons from moves to decolonise research methodologies and the university and apply this to research co-production. This is the work of co-production but it is not a neutral and apolitical set of practices in this work. Hence reimagining co-production through Afrofuturism.
Afrofuturism is not just a critique but a generative focus for co-producing research because of its diverse, live and lively practices and applications: For Womack (2013) it is… ‘Both an artistic aesthetic anda framework for critical theory, Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western beliefs.’ These lenses and inspirations kindle an Afrofuturist co-productive imagination which will begin moves to re-imagine the methodologies, ethics and practices and ways of valuing co-produced research. Co-production involves citizens in planning, collecting and analysing data but making theory remains the elite preserve of academics. Afrofuturism’s emancipatory politics inspires the attempt to co-produce theory with citizens, re-imagining what theory is and how it connects to everyday life. Co-produced ethics emphasise equality. Afrofuturism invites us to think of being alien and alienation rather than equality and participation posing profoundly different ways of understanding ethics, relationships of obligation, and the micro-social relations of accompaniment in research.
We are at the beginning of this adventure but we hope to develop an Afrofuturist-orientated co-production which involves collaborative theory building between citizens and academics, a process involving a lively encounter with music, film, technology and inspiring retellings of alternative pasts and (hopeful) histories of the future.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown and physical distancing began many of us have been grappling with the challenges and potentials of rethinking co-produced or collaborative ways of working. Physical distancing measures make it harder to develop the trust and quality of relationship needed to work together. At the same time, the pandemic, by challenging traditional ways of doing research, might create new space to question established orders of power, such as academic knowledge (Roy, 2020, Skeggs, 2020). Could this challenge to settled ways of doing co-production might also provoke us to imagine new ways of researching together?
This ESRC Festival of Social Science online event brought together on-going dialogues between academics, community organisations and the people and publics they work with to re-imagine what co-production is and it might become. The event featured short presentations on different coproduction projects, with time for group discussion on challenges and opportunities ahead for coproduced research.
We focused on cases each illuminating a new theme for co-production:
Imagination: Co-production is often described using words such as empower, social justice, democracy and equality but these have all been stretched and misappropriated to mean just about anything. James Duggan and Elmi Ali from community theatre space Niamos are working to re-think co-production through the lenses and practices of Afrofuturism which offers a new imagination, where we might, for example, hold onto ideas of being alien and alienation rather than claiming we are equals in co-production. (You can read a blog about this session here.)
Margins: At a time when our welfare system is under unprecedented pressure and needs rethinking, it’s fundamental to include in this discussion voices too often left unheard. Sonia Bussu and Nigel Allmark talked with Suzy Solley and Mat Amp from Groundswell, a London-based charity doing research with people with lived experience of homelessness, some of their recent projects during the pandemic, and how they are helping to create ethical spaces for homeless voices to be heard and contribute to societal change.
Tacit knowledge: Working with families often involves engaging with sensitive and complex family relationships and it is important to be able to account for things that go unsaid or are not fully explicated in words. Abi Hackett joined with Ruthie Boycott-Garner (MMU), Katy McCall (Manchester Art Gallery) and Naomi Kendrick (Manchester Art Gallery) to discuss the potential of visual and material methods to access ways of knowing that extend beyond words, during times of physical distancing.
This blog is the first in the series presenting these three dialogues. In the meantime please check out the event video and Wakelet:
Nigel Allmark, Sonia Bussu, James Duggan and Abi Hackett
Our recent paper in the British Educational Research Journal (Sant & Brown, 2020) seeks to question the logic by which education, education and yet more education will bring about emancipation from the hidden exercise of force that underpins populist movements in contemporary politics. We showed how the fantasy of the educational cure operates as an ideology protecting education’s project of securing customers for its product in the market place. For example, in England the university sector’s more critical ambitions have been displaced by demand-side financial clout in dollops of £9,250 fuelled by desires schooled in suppositions of the future job market, and more immediate demands in university classroom dynamics secured through the National Student Survey (Thiel, 2019).
These marketised demands are inculated in students long before they reach university.
The recent furore over A’ level results in that country and the operation, or not, of an algorithm in producing the correct distribution of grades across schools, has deflected attention from the chief assessment function of such exams. That is, as a selection device that dutifully, year after year, produces the right number and distribution of students for pre-defined course quotas across the university sector. As for the young woman pictured in the Guardian with a banner declaring “I’m a student, not a statistic”? Get real – the heat is on to stage-manage your own statistical profile if you want to be liked. Universities are part of the state’s ideological apparatus designed to produce a compatible citizenship.
The economist Thomas Piketty (2020) argues that populism has emerged as a consequence of left wing parties now speaking more to the educated winners of globalisation who have a self-serving image of how efforts should be rewarded, and how populism has emerged as an alternative for the disenfranchised looking for different scapegoats. He sees the reduced influence of workers’ parties as being a consequence of the disillusionment with the collapse of real life communism, and capitalism glorifying in its own success through an enhanced assertion of the free market. There is a real difficulty in putting together a coherent programme for the less advantaged as the collectivised union model that initiated the Labour movement has less traction in current circumstances where the disadvantaged are highly dispersed across many sectors and countries with little coordinated support.
Our paper transcends such economised perspectives with winners and losers. We adopt a critique of ideology where the populist fantasy, centred on there being an elitist stranglehold of everyday reality, is a victim of its own deception. The populist fantasy fails to recognise the impossibility of escaping the ideological constraints within or outside institutionalised forms of education. Emancipatory education can only aim at transparent rationality but will ‘imprison’ us in old or new power relations. Emancipatory education necessarily ties knowledge and authority altogether. But this leaves us with the question of what we would want emancipation to bring about. How might we conceptualise future progressive paths in education? What would we want them to achieve? Edda (Sant, 2019) has reviewed a broad range of conceptualisations from the point of view of how education is variously aligned with democratic ambitions. She identifies the existence of at least eight distinctive emancipatory projects within the academic literature. Each project sustains its understanding of emancipatory education in distinctive ontological, epistemological and ethical grounds.
Our BERJ paper, however, follows the political theorist Ernesto Laclau in arguing that human beings need to recognise themselves as the true creators and no longer be passive recipients of a predetermined structure. On the other hand, all social agents have to recognise their concrete finitude as nobody can aspire to be the true consciousness of the world. Might then we emancipate ourselves from both populist and anti-populist discourses? And if so, how should we do this? Or does the discursive landscape require renewal so that educational trajectories can be thought differently? It seems that we need a new fantasy and must question how we might understand education within this. We will surely fail again but may learn to fail better or, more likely, differently.
Piketty, T. (2020) Capital and Ideology. London: Belknap.
Edda Sant and Tony Brown both work at Manchester Metropolitan University. Edda is Senior Lecturer in Education. Her book, Political education in times of populism will be published by Palgrave MacMillan next year.Tony is Professor of Mathematics Education. His tenth book, A contemporary theory of mathematics education researchis being published by Springer in November 2020.
we took part in a workshop focused on developing a position paper on
“Evaluating the Arts” as part of the AHRC-GCRF PRAXIS project hosted by the University of Leeds. As a result of discussing the
various different ways in which traditional methods of programme evaluation
could be adapted to take account of the arts, we felt it would be useful to
articulate our individual approaches to the use of evaluation in relation to
some of the projects that we have been involved with.
As a researcher with experience of working with
non-governmental and community-based organisations on monitoring and evaluation
(M&E) processes (e.g. Corcoran and Wakia 2013&2016), my (Su’s) approach
to evaluation often begins at the practice level. As an academic researcher, I
am very aware of the criticism directed towards researchers who parachute into
a context, conduct their research, and gain later notoriety through their
publications, without ensuring impact – or equal recognition – for the
communities, partners, and research assistants who contribute to the research
Therefore, the collaboration with Glad’s House as part
of our BA-funded project (Re)-engaging street connected young people
with education in Mombasa, was developed in order to benefit the
organisation. We focused on a research question that we both wanted to answer using
methodologies that would help the organisation to work towards achieving their
advocacy goals. In this instance, developing qualitative research skills to
enable data generation as part of M&E processes that could provide evidence
for working with local government to better inform initiatives/responses aimed
at street-connected young people. A key observation made by the social work
team involved in the project was the benefit of using more creative methods of
engaging with young people (Corcoran et al. 2020) and therefore the project had
a lasting impact not only on the development of qualitative modes of M&E,
but also on the activities utilised on a day-to-day basis. The development of
more qualitative and/or ethnographic approaches to monitoring and evaluation
are being developed by a number of funders in the international development
sector. StreetInvest (2017) are encouraging participative and reflective practice approaches
to M&E and Comic Relief funded Retrak in Uganda to explore the use of a
combination of qualitative data generation methods that could link into storytelling
and Endeshaw 2018) – both focused on street-connected
My work focuses on contexts that I do not have experience of living, although I have work experience as an educator and administrator in schools and NGOs in these contexts. Therefore, evaluation can play a key role in helping a cross-sectoral team of researchers, artists and practitioners to envisage frameworks that need to be in place for future projects. Our (Kate and Su) AHRC-GCRF Belonging and Learning network project aimed to pilot the use of arts-based methods to encourage dialogue between young people and policy makers. However, in exploring the effectiveness of encouraging local government officials to either dance or write poetry with street-connected young people in Kenya and the DRC, or of bringing policymakers to an exhibition of visual art created by refugees in Uganda, there were wider questions to evaluate beyond the mode of communication (Ferguson 2020).
We took an ethnographic approach to evaluation in
this project, inviting Vicky Ferguson, who has extensive safeguarding knowledge,
to observe all aspects of the workshops conducted in each of the three
countries. As such, we opened ourselves up to extensive critique in relation to
our relationship as academics with the practitioners and artists who were our partners
on the project. More importantly, we were able to highlight the complexities
that need to be negotiated to ensure that both the artists’ roles as
facilitator and equal partner in the research is combined and supported with
the practitioner knowledge of our community partners in order to provide safe
spaces in which young people are heard. And that these young people understand
from the outset, what realistic impact from their participation looks like in
practice (Ferguson 2020). In order to do this, how can we bring young people’s
voices into the project from the beginning – if not at the proposal writing
stage then ensuring that the proposal includes time for young people to be
consulted and the project to be co-produced.
In the AHRC-funded Questioning the Form project, we are further developing the ethnographic approach to evaluation, engaging the art form around which the project has been developed as the output of a reflective evaluation of the project. Questioning the form will combine poetry and visual art in the creation of zines with women in Uganda. Adapted in light of the COVID 19 situation, two reflective zines will be produced in addition to the zines made by the women who participate. The first will involve a station on one side of the room that will become a collective zine that the women can contribute to at any stage during the two 5-day workshops. Lisa Damon, who is observing the workshops and speaking with the women and the different collaborators at various stages in the project, will create the second. Lisa’s reflection has already started as she is reflecting on how we are working together to adapt our plans to the current – pandemic – situation. As we are unable to travel, Lisa, and the two of us, will interact with the workshops remotely, which offers an interesting opportunity for thinking through a blueprint for future projects that place autonomy for the projects firmly in the hands of local collaborators and consider the growing need to consider climate change.
However, despite the depth and
engagement with the artistic form that creative methods of evaluation provide,
we have found that policy-maker audiences are not necessarily receptive to such
outputs, even though they carry great weight for the participants involved in
their creation. I (Kate) have had extensive experience of
co-producing research with young people. Evaluative work is only meaningful to
young people if the form it takes makes sense to them and can articulate their
concerns (Pahl 2019). Film and poetry is sometimes not seen as ‘evidence’ by
policy makers. In Rotherham, the AHRC-funded Making Meaning Differently
project I led explored young people’s perceptions of government and involved a
group of young people making a film to show to government using shadow puppets.
Although their message was powerful, the officials preferred Slide Packs as
forms of evidence. The work of the young people was not engaged with. Therefore,
as we developed the Rotherham project, we took the decision to co-produce a
book that was composed of art work as well as writing by the policy-makers,
exploring the nature of knowledge and the different forms that knowledge could
take within communities.
So where does our experience lead us in terms of identifying innovative ways of capturing learning and impact, and how
we can balance the needs of different stakeholders and compile recommendations
for ways forward – particularly in terms of the preference for formal reports
and quantitative impact data? We feel that there are a number of key questions that
should be considered:
What do young people,
community partners and artists want/need from the project?
As much as possible,
research projects should be coproduced with the people who will be directly
involved with delivering or participating in them. What researchers in the UK
feel is important may not necessarily correspond to the practitioners at the
local level in the DRC for example. The current scramble to complete proposals
for funding calls does not necessarily provide the opportunities for equal
collaboration – or the involvement of young people, for example, who are the
focus of the project. Therefore, the design and budget for projects should
necessarily incorporate space in which these different voices are able to
articulate their expectations to shape and co-design the project that is
finally delivered – from deciding on the form of the project outputs and research
methodologies, to the nature of the evaluation process.
What data is required at the local level? Can the project
incorporate this? Would the local level data also satisfy the detail at the
funder/policy maker level?
are multiple levels of knowledge creation within any project – for example,
from the young people who participated in the projects above to the funders who
require that we report on our impact – and it is just as important to
understand what all of these various stakeholders would like the project to
achieve. In discussing the evidence that is required at the local level for
advocacy etc., their requirements may correspond to the expectations of
stakeholders who often have more influence on the form that such evidence needs
Does bringing policy makers into the
projects mean that a system of data generation can be codesigned once they
experience the value of the arts?
activities we developed in Rotherham and the DRC showcase two clear instances
of outputs involving the voices of young people and of policy makers. For
future projects, we aim to develop the format of the Belonging and Learning project
to involve policy maker engagement throughout. In so doing we hope to raise the
profile of knowledge created using arts-based methods and potentially influence
policy-makers. Arts methods open up a space which enables people to communicate
in more horizontal ways, and thereby change the space of their encounters to
communicate more honestly and fully.
Campbell, E., Pahl, K., Pente, E. and Rasool, Z.
(2018) Re-Imagining Contested Communities: Connecting Rotherham through
research. Bristol: Policy press.
S. & Wakia J. (2013). Evaluating Outcomes: Retrak’s use of the Child
Status Index to measure wellbeing of street-connected children. Manchester:
Corcoran, S. and J. Wakia (2016). ‘Using child wellbeing
assessments to track progress in family reintegration’. Global Social Welfare 3:137-145
Ferguson, V. (2020). External Evaluation of the GCRF/AHRC-funded
project – Belonging and learning: Using co-produced arts methodologies to
explore youth participation in contexts of conflict in Kenya, Uganda and the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Manchester Metropolitan University.
M. & Endeshaw, Y. (2018). Final
Evaluation of the “Changing lives of vulnerable children and families from the
SNNPR” Project. Manchester: Retrak
Amidst the lockdown measures of COVID-19, I tuned into the Academic Network on Global Education & Learning (ANGEL) Early Career Researchers Conference 2020, hosted by the University of Oulu on Zoom and waited excitedly. As people started streaming into the conference, I noticed my peers from BA (Hons) Education Studies, Katie and Nay in attendance too.
We had attended seminars with Dr Karen Pashby and Marta da Costa during our degree, and it was here that Global Education (GE) was first introduced to us through the unit: International Development, Education and Colonialism. The riveting in-class discussions about the different ways that education reproduces oppression and colonialism through knowledge/ power on a global level, sparked intriguing debates and conversations. Knowing Karen was invited as one of the keynote speakers amongst other leading scholars, and that Marta was presenting her doctoral research at the event, we were excited to register. It presented a great opportunity for us to see their work in the global education research field alongside other top scholars.
During the two-day event, panels consisting of academics and scholarships from across the globe led discussions on a broad range of interconnecting conceptualisations, raising new questions and possibilities regarding global education. Amongst the panel discussions, it was really interesting to listen in to Karen’s sharing on ethical considerations future researchers could think of applying for future research. The panellists also gave advice to researchers in their early careers. Although sometimes complex, these concepts were made wholly accessible to us because of what we had learned from our Education Studies degree.
We also had the chance to join small group break-out sessions. These sessions gave the options of listening to research presentations on topics such as GE in schools; social justice and culture; implementing GE; teacher engagement with GE and more. The researchers presented perspectives spanning across various contexts and ideas, demonstrating a broad range of studies in the field. This created a platform for eye-opening discussions, where we got to hear diverse viewpoints.
The presentations compelled us to think beyond our own perceptions and consider the views of diverse participants’ professional and cultural backgrounds related to global education. These little sessions were an enjoyable element of the conference and were also an opportunity to network and interact with academics with whom it would have been difficult for us to meet otherwise at this stage in our careers.
Participating in ANGEL 2020, was a valuable experience which allowed us to interact and network with other participants, sharing our reflections and thoughts from what we have learned, are learning and future possibilities of our engagement with global education. After the event, we each have significant individual takeaways from participating in this conference. In the following paragraphs, we share our reflections on the experience.
Cheryl I had two major personal and professional takeaways from the conference. An expanding professional network to learn from/ with. More questions to consider for the future. Both My BA dissertation and my MA proposal focused on international higher education (IHE). Hence, Xi Tao’s work discussed in the panel intrigued me. She and I exchanged our personal experiences as international students and shared our converging research interests despite the different contexts we engaged with. We even exchanged emails and continued our correspondence until today. Another presenter that I have kept in touch with since, was Guaravi Lobo. Her research focused on the role of religion in India’s education and its relation to nationalistic, cultural and identity tensions. Growing up in a Confucianist-centric society of Singapore, I related to the possibilities in education to deconstruct dominant cultural values and provide spaces for communal learning and sharing. It was the first time I had encountered Lobo’s framework and I enjoyed our conversation after, from which I learned a lot, opening new possibilities I could look into for future research. These were just some of the most significant experiences for me. Attending the conference challenged some of my perceptions and I felt as though I had unearthed more questions and considerations for the future which is exactly what I had hoped for in the pursuit of my university education. This experience has revealed the possibilities for interdisciplinary approaches and the wide scope that global education research encompasses. Prior to this conference, it had never crossed my mind that my interest in IHE was related to global citizenship. However, the discussions revealed to me the multiple ways global citizenship and identity is an interconnected part of IHE. As a fresh graduate, this event has affirmed that I am heading in the right direction regarding my own future career plans. Additionally, it has been a great opportunity to help me develop a growing network early in my journey.
Katie This was my first online and academic conference, and I did not know fully what to expect. The panel discussions gave some very relevant advice as one of the professors spoke about how it can be a struggle to get published, with work often being rejected. They advised us to prepare for possible rejection, not letting it be a detriment, and that you may need to try different journals for your work. Hearing about this common experience amongst academics conveyed the rejections I need to prepare myself to face in my future academic career. On day one, I joined a session on teacher engagement with Global Education and Learning (GEL), where Cuicui Li presented rural Chinese school teachers’ perspectives on GEL. The discussions on current Chinese views of Chinese students studying abroad in these turbulent times were particularly interesting. It showed me the necessity of GEL in building better relationships with ourselves and how we relate to each other globally. On day two, in a session on decoloniality, Susanne Ress gave a visually stunning presentation on the experiences of African students in Brazil. My personal reflections on this research explored my own world views. Coming from a largely white working-class deprived area in northern England, I did not have much exposure through school regarding the South American continent. This revealed to me how the British education system promotes a very limited view of the world and I will apply these considerations in my postgraduate research. The session culminated with Pablo Dalby, exploring GEL for the privileged, concentrating on gap year students. The stories in the research saddened me as voluntourism was a strong theme. However, it also expressed the necessity for us to question our positionality and to honestly examine our intentions. I can now view the Education Studies degree in new ways, as the conference brought the degree out of the classroom, making it feel more tangible and immediately relevant. A common theme amongst Education Studies students was not knowing quite where to apply the degree outside of teaching. As I am going into academia, the conference has demonstrated the critical importance of Global Education in today’s world and how elements of the Education Studies degree can be applied in this area of research to build a more inclusive, equal and friendlier world.
Nay Scrolling through the event schedule, many topics seemed highly related to what I had learnt and researched in my Education Studies degree. I was surprised. This instantly made me feel like I belonged in this community. In addition to the panel discussions, I joined the small sessions on social justice and culture; policy analysis/non-western perspectives and decoloniality. Throughout the conference, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the panellists, presenters and the participants, and the amazing discussions on global education and learning. There were many powerful research presentations that were very personal to my experiences. Anielka Pieniazek’s fantastic presentation on conceptualising ‘Ubuntu’ as a pedagogical framework for global education connects to both my research and personal interest in the process of knowledge democratisation. That is the process of representing non-western knowledges in teaching and learning. Fadilla Mutiarawati’s nuanced research on the role of indigenous knowledges in Indonesian national education policies highlighted remarkable similarities to my home country, Myanmar. In both of these cases, education policies limit the representation of indigenous knowledges. We have since continued discussing how we could collaborate in order to be part of the solution in achieving justice for marginalised groups. Coming from a poor, ethnic-minority and non-Western background, these two speakers made me feel empowered and inspired to make an impact for marginalised communities by exposing inequities within education. However, this conference highlighted to me how a research career mirrors the global situation. As an international student in the UK, after years of pursuing and winning scholarships to complete my undergraduate degree, I have the ongoing struggle of finding rare postgraduate funding; an experience that was shared by many of the doctoral students on the second day of the conference. The event came at a time of personal instability: the end of my undergraduate studies; awaiting decisions on funding and job applications and; a global pandemic. I have learnt many new things from this conference and new opportunities are developing from exposing myself to the reality of academia. Expressing my voice in this blog is perhaps one of them. I guess that is how opportunities arise. Maybe not. Who knows?
As we sat together virtually writing this a few weeks after the end of the conference, we all agreed that there were many new lessons which we drew from the conference, plus more for us to reflect on. Before our experiences with the various seminars we attended during our course of studies, the words, “decoloniality’’ and “multiculturalism’’ were nothing more than trendy jargon. Without our Education Studies degree, the conference would have held little meaning for us, and instead would have felt like a world in which we could not effectively participate in or understand.We learned a lot of theory in Education Studies, and this opportunity helped us to see the connection and application to real-world situations.
Through the conference, we learned and observed how it is applied in the field and potentially influencing people and policies, weighing the importance of the theoretical knowledge and critical thinking skills we have honed through our course of studies. The conference showed us how vast and varied the global education field is, with future research possibilities holding importance across a multitude of different contexts and locations. We now have a clearer idea of what to expect in our academic careers, with realistic portrayals of academic life coming from the panel discussions, showing us a supportive and friendly academic community that we could potentially gain guidance from in our future careers.
We have all been deeply affected by the current global pandemic and as I write this blog it is five weeks since the nation was asked to stay at home in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
As a researcher, I have worked closely the local homelessness sector over the last three years and am acutely aware of the pressures they had already been working under before this crisis. Sustained cuts to public sector since 2010 had eroded housing welfare services by 46% between 2010 and 2014 (Perry, 2014). Moreover, evictions from the private rented sector sored by 28% between 2010 and 2017 (Fitzpatrick, et al., 2018).
In this context, hidden forms of homelessness are of particular concern. In 2018, the government recorded that 79,880 households with children in England were living in temporary accommodation; in these households, there were 126,020 children (MHCLG, 2018). In addition to that, the charity Justlife estimated that 51,500 single adults reside in unsupported temporary accommodation in England (Maciver, 2018).
Whilst there is a statutory responsibility for Local Authorities to provide support to families with children, the temporary accommodation offered almost always has a damaging effect on people’s mental and physical health as well as children’s developmental needs. Even before COVID-19, issues such as were already major problems – the Trussell Trust reported a peak rise of 23% from 2018 to 2019 in the number of food parcels distributed nationally (the steepest rise in five years).
It is for these reasons that small projects such as #LockdownLIVEs are so important. As an ongoing project, it hopes to creatively connect Greater Manchester residents living in emergency and temporary accommodation. As a weekly documentary broadcast it has the potential to increase public awareness in a way that can drive political change.
In the first instalment released on Tuesday 28th April 2020, we got a taster of what the project will look like going forward. It already looks like it will become a positive force to connect people and build community. Poetry was provided by one contributor whose engaging style and delivery reminded me of the legendary John Cooper Clarke,
“stay at home and don’t go out, just stop in and isolate. You know what this is all about, you shouldn’t really congregate”
However, it won’t shy away from the real struggles of living in emergency or temporary accommodation. One contributor described that it is a growing struggle to find positive things to do during the day where he lives.
I’m told that each week there will be a theme for each documentary which will help build a discussion about these collective experiences that undoubtably needs to happen. This week’s theme is What’s the first thing you noticed about the place you’re staying?
To find out more, visit @LockdownLIVEs @twitter and Street Support Network on Facebook.