November’s #OTalk Research is exploring Routine evaluation in practice – How can it contribute to relevant research and enquiry? It is being hosted by Duncan Pentland (@DuncsOT) and supported by Jenny Preston (@preston_jenny).
Research can be an intimidating word. It can come with lots of baggage, no matter where you are as an occupational therapist – students worry about the need to understand research as part of their education, practitioners worry that it’s something they are supposed to be doing or using but feel they aren’t, academics worry that their research won’t have ‘impact’ or that they won’t be able to get it funded, and so on and so forth.
The doing of research is about finding things out. It is about enquiry; asking questions about our world and going to some effort to answer those questions in ways that don’t rely on superstitions, gut feelings, guesses, gurus and so on.
One of the big things I have learned during my time in various roles since I chose to become and occupational therapist is that the doing of research (in its broadest sense as an attempt to find out about the world) encompasses a very wide range of activities indeed. Some of these are aligned strongly with the definitions of research that stress systematic investigation and all of the language that goes with the near millennium of development in ‘modern’ science.
However, as a species humans have always, and will continue to learn from our immediate environments. We don’t jump straight to highly systematic investigations and controlled experimentation in our daily lives, but we do enquire. We ask questions and collect information, most often through observation and experience (and sometimes measurement), and we analyse it using the most powerful and intricate tools we know about – our minds. In the academic field it is rare to go from question/idea to formal research/experiment straight away. Rather, knowledge about the topic is built up from one end of the enquiry spectrum, which often starts with observation in practice.
This is where the subject of the OTalk comes in – Routine evaluation in practice – How can it contribute to relevant research and enquiry?
Arguably, we ‘do’ research all the time in practice. Collecting data, in many different forms, about the impact of our practice on the people we work with falls under the idea that valuable and worthwhile research spans a range of activities, and is not just limited to what happens on ‘named’ research programmes.
However, recognising the role routine evaluation can play in advancing our professional body of knowledge, and making sure that routine evaluation is valued both those who do it, and those who might enable us to make more use of information is a challenge.
But it is a challenge we can begin to overcome, and I think a good place to start is to talk about the why and how of routine evaluation, and where this fits on the research spectrum.
One thing I have learned from various roles supporting health and social care professionals to collect and use data more meaningfully is that, if there’s no obvious advantage or benefit to doing it, it either doesn’t happen, or become a burden that becomes resented. At the same time, there is often a realisation small changes to the way information is collected can have real benefits. Sometimes that is adding a few extra points of information to allow specific practice issues to be considered more thoroughly, to changing the way team and individuals access data so they can make more use of it.
So the questions for tonight are designed to get us thinking about how to bring more value to evaluation, how to link these activities to the ‘doing’ of research enquiry, and how to recognise that audit, service evaluation and routine analysis are all valuable parts ways of enquiring and generating knowledge for and about occupational therapy.
- How joined up do you think your evaluation is?
- Do you measure or count things that matter from your professional perspective and the perspectives of the people you work with, or is it driven by other factors?
- What questions about your practice do you want to ask or investigate?
- Capturing the complex range of impacts can be difficult but can lead to important research, what do you want to be able to evaluate in practice but can’t?
- Have you tried to use evaluation data before, and if so how successful were you?
- What would need to happen to make your routine evaluation more valuable…to you, your service and the people you work with?
- What would make it easier for you to use the data you collect for enquiry/research?
- What would you need to be able more easily share the things you learn from or develop in practice?
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