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  • Author or Editor: Karen McArdle x
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In this chapter, we discuss the importance of values and the link to power and empowerment that is a purpose central to work in the community in democratic countries. We discuss voice, which is making the perspectives of the people with whom we work heard by ourselves and by others. We also introduce ethical choices, which must be applied to our activities linked to gathering evidence. We return to ethics frequently in this text, as we think ethics are fundamental to the processes of gathering evidence because they govern how it ‘should’ be done and the ‘right’ way of doing these processes. What is right in terms of what we do in community work and in gathering evidence is linked to morality and the following questions: Why we do what we do? How we do what we do? How does this link to ideas about self and others? Morals, as Driver (2007) explains, comprise those things one ‘ought’ to do. Moral norms, with which this book is concerned, primarily, as Driver explains, concern our interactions with others in ways that have significance to the latter’s wellbeing. If we do something that could harm or benefit others, Driver explains, this is arguably a moral matter. There are many examples of ways in which things have been done that are linked to what most people consider to be atrocities. We can perhaps all agree that genocide is not acceptable, but many of our choices of what to do in community work are less clear-cut.

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This book aims to explain how you can implement the processes of gathering evidence of the impact of your practice in the community. We hope this book will work for you as a practical ‘how to’ guide, but the book also contains theoretical insights to practice and how these come together in the form of ‘praxis’. The term praxis refers to the way we make meaning from experience and theory, which in turn informs our practice (Stuart et al, 2015). This chapter explores the idea of impact with work in the community and provides an introduction to the remainder of the book, which focuses on practical ideas and examples of methods of showing this impact. The book contains case studies to show how our ideas work in the field. We hope the three case studies in this chapter are similar to work you undertake; we present them here to encourage you to start thinking about practice and hope that the questions we raise will prompt reflection about the change you make and the impact of such change. By the end of the book, you should have the answers to the questions prompted by the case studies. You may wish to try to answer these questions at the end of the individual case studies as you encounter them: The population of Maryville is 800 and 80 people came to a meeting in the village hall to discuss the future of the village, as there were plans afoot to build another 60 houses on the edge of the village, some of which were earmarked for social housing.

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As professionals, not only do we work in complex and sometimes demanding community roles but also sometimes in challenging contexts in which we seek to generate evidence of impact. These challenges come from a range of sources and require us to have a means of dealing with them. This chapter introduces the social context in which many of us work and considers the means of dealing with challenges. We consider in this chapter the different kinds of knowing that we can use in gathering evidence, the ways in which values underpin this knowing and the impact of this on the evidence we present to others. The power of knowledge is discussed in different domains alongside its importance in the process of gathering evidence. For each of us, the social context will be different and will depend on the culture of our country, our location in that country, the culture of our organisation or profession, and the experiences we have of our team or colleagues and of our supervisor or manager. It will also depend on the character and history of our participants. There are, however, arguably a range of factors that influence our experience of work that are common across social professions. It is important here to introduce the notion of history, and the idea that it lingers with us longer than we necessarily need it and it is imbued in all of us. Much is written about history and how it affects individuals. Arguably, the most commonly referenced ideas are those of Pierre Bourdieu (1977 [1972]), who used the term ‘habitus’ to refer to ‘second nature’.

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Narrative inquiry is a method of finding the stories we wish to tell others about the impact of the work we do in the community. It is relevant to community work, because the method is highly accessible to the respondents. It seeks deep and rich accounts of experience and is consistent with the values of community work, in that it seeks to assist participants to frame their experience rather than asking them interview questions. It is the study of the stories people tell about their lives. Its purpose is to see how participants in interview impose order on the flow of experience to make sense of events and actions in their lives (Riessman, 1993). People in general, in our experience, like to tell stories about their lives. People’s stories tell us about their identity, who they are and who they have become through experience. Narratives are case studies in the context of gathering evidence. The reason narrative inquiry is so consistent with the values of the community work profession is that it does not lead the participant in terms of what to think about or consider. In interviews, you can ask about confidence and self-esteem, but this may not be of interest to respondents, nor may they conceptualise in this way. In narrative inquiry, participants choose what to discuss and you can interpret what they say to answer your questions. There is, however, a big question about the truth of what they say. Stories are representations of what people want to communicate, including the identity they wish to portray, as well as the impact they wish to have on the listener.

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This quotation refers to the importance of respecting the people with whom we work and affirms that local people can work in a research or, we would say, evidence gathering, context. It also affirms the rights of these participants to set their own agendas for inquiry and to have ownership of the process. Participatory approaches can also be viewed from a more pragmatic perspective. The following quotation enumerates some of the practical advantages of participatory research. [Participatory research] raises the likelihood that research questions and designs will be more responsive to community needs; that research executions will be more accurate in capturing community nuances; and that community members, having been brought into the research enterprise, will be more likely to pay attention to, agree with, and implement the recommendations of the research findings. (Jason, 2006, p xvii) Approaches to gathering evidence that involve working together with participants are sometimes called collaborative approaches, and sometimes participatory approaches. Collaborative approaches typically involve communities of practice with different stakeholders functioning as co-inquirers (Messiou, 2019). Participatory approaches typically involve the clients, learners or service users. They are founded on the fundamental principle that most people can and will participate in the generation of evidence in a research-focused environment. Those who see research as an elitist and difficult activity find this approach hard to comprehend, but we are of the view that, with appropriate training and support, most people are well able to contribute at all stages of a research, inquiry and/or evidence-gathering activity should they choose to do so.

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You may be surprised to find that the first chapter in this part of the book is about presenting your findings. Usually, this topic appears at the end of a text, but we consider that presenting your findings is one of the first things you need to think about when expressing impact and when planning your project or services. There are particular complexities and challenges in working in community settings and it is not possible to simply undertake a project and then write it up with a quick evaluation, as the process is so much more complex and generating evidence needs careful planning from the very start. You will almost certainly also be generating multiple sources of evidence. Increasingly, in times of austerity or rapid change, community work needs to present to decision makers and funders the effectiveness of what is funded and the impact of what is done. This is important to achieve sustainability of services; innovation in response to change; adaptation of services to meet new needs; and changes in service profile. It is also important for professional knowledge of the effectiveness of what we do – for self-evaluation. Finally, we have a responsibility to the communities with which we work, to share with them the impact of community work in order to celebrate successes and learn about what else can and needs to be done. Presentation of findings can be done in many ways, too many to include all of them in this chapter, but we wish to encourage you to use your imagination and to find ways to include your participants in this process.

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This chapter looks at the importance of anecdote and observation. As practitioners, we constantly observe, as a matter of course, the groups, communities and individuals with whom we work. For example, when delivering training to a group, Ed looks for signs that show him if the training is going well or not; how people respond to tasks; how engaged participants are; and how they relate to each other. We use these observations, sometimes explicitly but often implicitly, to build our evidence of impact. So, a good understanding of the use of observation in showing evidence of impact is an invaluable skill for any practitioner, because it is something we all do anyway as part of our community work. Just as important, however, understanding exactly how we can use observation in building evidence is a key part of our practice as community workers and it can define our relationships with other professionals too. As Chapter 3 argued, as community workers, we often deal most closely with the local, the anecdotal and the historically situated, and this kind of knowledge is not always highly valued. Different forms of knowing are valued differently by different people. Observation is largely about this kind of local evidence, and if we can understand it better we can justify it better to others. Observation, as a method, has a central place in social science research. This is not a book about research methods, but it is important to distinguish between different ways of observing to understand exactly what we do as practitioners working with communities.

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This chapter discusses the use of questionnaires as a means of generating evidence of impact. Questionnaires are often used in semi-structured interviews as a schedule of questions and this is discussed further in Chapter 8. Here, we focus on questionnaires completed by the participant or stakeholder. The first thing to mention in thinking about questionnaires is that they rely very much on the willingness of people to give their time, and on literacy issues of comfort with reading and writing. Many a time we have seen people struggling to fill in a questionnaire holding pen or pencil uncomfortably and managing one or two words, if any. As the process is quite distinct, in this chapter we use the term respondents rather than participants, the latter word used elsewhere for learners, clients, patients and other service users. Robson (2017) makes the following observations on questionnaires: Questionnaires are very widely used in small-scale evaluations…. It appears deceptively straightforward to devise the questions. Completion of the questions does not take long and can be incorporated without undue difficulty into a program. Without forethought, the task of analysis can be routinized and it can generate satisfying quantitative data. There are some underlying problems, however. Good questionnaires are not easy to devise, as is testified by the prevalence of many awful examples. More fundamentally, the choice of a questionnaire should be governed by the research questions. So, if for example the main purpose of an evaluation is to assess whether the program goals have been achieved, then you only use a questionnaire if it will help to do this.

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Often with work in the community, we know that the impact of the work will be long term rather than short term. Often, however, funding and political concerns require that we show evidence of impact at the end of a short-term funding period. It is often the case that we meet people who say that if it hadn’t been for our intervention, their life would have been a disaster. This is evidence of impact in the long term. If, as is the case for many of the social professions, such as youth work, community work, social work or adult education, we work knowing that people may not fully realise the change that has occurred until later on in their lives, we need to consider longitudinal studies. For those who operate exclusively in the short term, the types of initiative that have a long-term impact are those which work with vulnerable groups of people or that seek attitude and behavioural change, such as growth in self-esteem and agency. We can, of course, gather evidence in the short term, but sometimes the high quality and richness of development over time is worth seeking out. This chapter seeks to explain longitudinal studies to equip you with an understanding of how to implement them yourself as well as commission them from other people, as they can be time and resource-intensive. They are important to the credibility of what we do in the human professions and we aim to show you ways in which they can be used to gather evidence in retrospect as well as during your project.

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Pablo Picasso is a Cubist, one of the founders of a style of painting that abandons perspective with a single viewpoint. On one canvas, for example, he portrayed a chair from many different positions and in many geometric shapes – from above, from below, the legs, the seat. He superimposed these different views to get close to what he thought of as the quintessential truth of a chair. He believed that more than one perspective brought the observer closer to the truth. We can use a similar approach in community work, specifically with regard to triangulation, which is a key term in this chapter and denotes a way of evidencing our work that combines many different viewpoints. To help explain the concept further, the hill walkers or climbers among you may have heard of trig points, a series of reference points that are used in surveying to determine a fact, such as the height of a mountain. The importance of Picasso and trig points for us is that we can use triangulation in a similar way to obtain more than one point of view about our work in the community. These different points of view help show the validity of any claim we make about our work in the community. Showing the validity of your claims is crucial, as it may affect your own wellbeing, as well as that of your own work or projects and your participants. Triangulation of evidence gives your work additional credibility over evidence that comes from only one source.

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