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Evaluation report:
Situating Qualitative Research in Evidence-based Research and
Systematic Review Agendas,

One-day seminar, 24 June 2004, University of Sheffield


 


This seminar was the third in the RCBN “Qualitative Research in Teaching and Learning: Quality, Innovation and Future Directions” seminar series organised in consultation with MMU. It was held at the University of Sheffield and while it was well attended, with 28 delegates, only six of these were TLRP researchers.

The first speaker, Mary Dixon-Woods presented a very detailed and wide-ranging review of systematic review methods, indicating the strengths and limitations of the presented methods. While this was received very favourably, the amount of content meant that for people new to the area, taking it all in was difficult. While one person commented that they would have liked more time on this area, another suggested that accompanying material provided a good basis for people to undertake their own investigations. Harry Torrance presented a critical review of the use of systematic reviewing methods in educational research, and spoke of his concerns that synthesis of education research in the UK has been captured by the interests of the EPPI-Centre.

Liz Spencer related experiences of developing the framework for qualitative research and suggested that once you get behind the polemics and debate there is more common ground than may first appear, for example among many qualitative researchers there is a great deal of unease around notions of criteria. She claimed that in furthering discussion about quality in qualitative research, the report is more important than the framework, not least because there are many other examples of frameworks. Lesley Saunders described the contested arena of policy-making, made up of multiple agencies competing to have an effect on public policy. She suggested that researchers need to take responsibility for making research more accessible and consider what sources policy-makers are actually using, e.g. websites. The GTCE is committed to using research grounded in existing research practice, and she suggested that while qualitative research is often strong on description, it is much weaker on argument and conceptualisation.

Martyn Hammersley suggested that we do not know enough about how systematic reviews are used, and there is a need for research that examines this. He also supported Lesley Saunders’ views that policymaking is a very complex process. In order to have some influence qualitative researchers need to accept as fact that they are dealing with a system of “new public management”, however, Liz Spencer and Harry Torrance’s work indicate that you do not necessarily need to conform or comply. He claimed that despite the reluctance of many qualitative researchers to present findings or facts, it is important to find a way of recognising the problematic nature of knowledge production, but continue to make knowledge claims and avoid a relativistic position. There are places of common ground, albeit difficult common ground. For example, even supporters of systematic reviews and RCTs, which enable power to be placed in the hands of consumers, are supporters of notions of democracy. It is the characterisation of democracy that differs, so perhaps dialogue around these issues needs consideration.

In the open discussion, health researchers at this event expressed surprise at the political nature of the discussion and claimed that in health meta-analysis and synthesis methods are gaining credibility as they are recognised as being good at answering some types of question. There were claims that in health there was an increasing diversity in systematic approaches and that they are being adapted for purpose. Rather than systematic reviewing held up as a paradigm, you need to have a paradigm in order to do a systematic review.

Educators responded that they were in a difficult and more precarious position, subject to sustained attack (see Hammersley’s list of references). Claims were made that, until now, qualitative researchers have had a more dominant voice in educational research.

Liz Spencer pointed out that there were many other sources of research knowledge for policy makers, not just universities. In addition, Lesley Saunders pointed out that you should not leave recommendations and interpretation of research up to policy-makers; these things need to be negotiated through discussion.

Feedback from participants suggests that the content of the day was interesting and valuable. One person commented that, “speakers were knowledgeable and effective in their presentations, varied in their views which made a good critical introduction.” Ratings on the evaluation forms collected at the end of the event were very positive particularly regarding the content, but also in regard to the organisation of the day.

 


       
 
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This page was last updated 29th October 2004
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