Methodologies for Practice Research; Approaches for professional doctorates

Costley, Carol ORCID logoORCID: and Fulton, John, eds. (2019) Methodologies for Practice Research; Approaches for professional doctorates. Sage, London. ISBN 9781473991606. [Book]


This book addresses both the underlying principles of practice-based research and methodological approaches appropriate for practice-based research. It is aimed at the professional doctorate candidate, whether a generic professional doctorate, an EdD, a DBA or one of the many professional doctorates on offer. It covers the general principles of practice-based research and is not tied to a particular discipline or professional group.

Common to all professional doctorates is the relation to practice, and most professional doctorates require a final dissertation or thesis which details the focus and original development of an aspect of practice. Research on the impact from graduates of professional practice doctorates is beginning to reveal an alignment with the needs of communities, organisations and professions and how the graduates’| research can generate a wide variety of outcomes that have an impact. Their ability to transform research into action can meet the needs of employers and society, demonstrate improvements in practice and help society adapt well to the ever-increasing pace of change.

Research into practice involves carrying out research directly on practice actually in the practice area. Research through practice is, as it implies, using practice as the very focus of the research. This book explores research approaches in the context of practice-based research and as such it covers a very broad area. The focus is on research into practice and research through practice. A key argument is that there is commonality about practice and the development of that practice that transcends disciplinarity. When considering practice, there is great value in approaching research into practice and practice development in a structured and focused manner. This book aims to explore both the underlying principles and the methodological approaches which are relevant to research across the curriculum, often addressing complex, ‘real-world’ problems and that will ensure a careful, systematic approach. Practice is both broad and to a degree nebulous, and it is often used in a ‘cover-all’ way: for example, concepts of practice can differ greatly between work environments. However, comparatively recently there has been an increasing aware-ness of the ways knowledge can be generated from practice. The increasing popularity of professional doctorates has been an important factor in this development whereby experienced practitioners can develop their professional work to doctoral level. Practice research can take many forms and much depends on the focus and nature of the practice and practice area which are being explored. This book aims to explore the relevant methodological approaches which will facilitate this, not by presenting an exhaustive list, but rather by a consideration of relevant and commonly chosen approaches. What we aim to do in this book is to explore a range of options and we have purposefully drawn on examples from different disciplines and practice areas. It is also worth mentioning that often practitioners choose methodological approaches which are not valued in their particular area of practice. For example, an engineer wishing to implement a new technique might look to approaches involving human interaction and the management of change involving methods that are sometimes undervalued within a scientific discipline.

In practice-research, the ‘self” is important because researchers who are also practitioners are not outside observers but are centrally involved in the research and the research process, possibly carrying out research on themselves. This requires a different skill set from more conventional research approaches. Practice researchers and practitioner–researchers are often, but by no means exclusively, mid-career professionals, coming to the research with a wealth of experience and a variety of projects already completed. The challenge can be to develop this previous work using reliable methodical approaches that result in useful and rigorously achieved outcomes. This provides challenges for all involved and it is important that researchers position themselves within the research process, which requires a reflective and reflexive ability at a sophisticated level. Ethical issues are also important and do require much thought as the research often constitutes what is referred to as insider knowledge and part of this is the importance of the positionality of the researcher. Additionally, many ethical committees can classify practitioner research as service improvement where formal approval is not required. However, this is not to say that there are no ethical issues involved as full consent of all involved needs to be gained. There also needs to be some thought to potential ethical problems: for example, in exploring practice, suboptimal or bad practice might be uncovered. Not only at the beginning, but also throughout the process, ethical issues need to be given some detailed consideration. When dealing with practice environments there is almost always the requirement for the co-operation of others and this presents many challenges and requires strategic management. Acknowledgement of the transient nature of practice is often overlooked. Those in the public sector are aware of the changes in policy and funding cuts which can occur when there are government changes, and they also can happen within the lifespan of a government. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the public sector but also common in the private sector. Strategic management and many skills, often including insider knowledge, are essential in managing the process of research in tandem with changes in policy and practice. The above discussion serves to emphasise the importance of reflexivity and the need for reflective skills for practice-based researchers. In terms of reflection on and during the research process there is a need to consider the wider contextual factors which can impede the research and for reflective ability and adaptability to alter and develop the process in consideration of the experiences of the researcher. This has important implications for the methodological approaches which are relevant to practice-based research and is a key reason why the choosing of an approach requires detailed consideration. It is also important to emphasise that choosing a methodology is not an exact science and methodological approaches are not mutually exclusive as similar elements may be present in more than one approach. It is more a question of choosing the best fit so that an approach is chosen which will shape and develop the research process in the appropriate manner.

The particulars and themes running throughout the book are around the nature of practice and how the essence of practice can be captured through a research focus. Some recurring points are the need for reflection and for the integration of reflection and often also reflexivity into the research process. Similarly the integration of ethics and ethical principles that relate to practice need to be included in the research process. The transdisciplinary nature of work and practice situations is a theme, as well as the focus of research requiring particular outcomes and recommendations for practice. Also apparent in the choice of research approach are deliberations about the advantages and considerations needed for practitioners who engage in research and have insider knowledge and ontological awareness because of their expert experience. Although the separate chapters each address issues of practice resulting in similar themes running throughout the book, they are sometimes addressed in different ways. The aim is to explore methodological approaches which are useful ways of framing the research and which ensure rigour and consistency that allow the incorporation of the above principles.

Item Type: Book
Research Areas: A. > Work and Learning Research Centre
Item ID: 26410
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Depositing User: Carol Costley
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2019 09:02
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2019 10:38

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