The importance of linking ideas, policy and practice when working with children


Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) argues for making explicit the links between ideas, policy and practice:

Listening to Professor Tom Cockburn – who is Head of the University’s Social Science Department and has extensive experience of thinking about and researching childhood studies – give his professorial lecture, I was struck (again) by the need to make explicit the links between ideas, policy and practice.

As Tom observed, we are working in a University with both a rich tradition of working with and preparing a key set of professionals (teachers) to work with children, and for over 20 years we have worked with and prepared another key professional group  – nurses and medical staff. And yet two quite separate things were set out in Tom’s talk (and they are recurring themes across a number of the talks and workshops in the Festival of Ideas and they are also part of the remit for I4P).

Firstly, the need for professionals to listen and speak to each other. The case for collaboration is well known. And we know – as Professor Sally Spencer from the Faculty of Health illustrated this week in her workshop – talking has to be facilitated and enabled. The power of the silo (even here) is such that separate developments detached from like-minded ways of seeing and thinking about the world can happen quite easily. And that’s before we address professional notions of territory and space.

Secondly, having conversations is only a first step. It needs to be accompanied by thinking about how we effect change. And so making the links between ideas, policy and action requires us to bring into the conversation another set of voices: those who we are talking about – children and young people and, if necessary, their advocates / supporters.

We should not assume that we can broker these conversations and develop ways of working which will generate trust and engagement. The challenge, I think, is how we make those connections and what we learn from them. And that’s the final part of this process: what do we take back and learn? And are we up for that part of the process?

Under the radar conversations

I have been struck by the growing gap between the election campaign as it appears in the media and the conversations and discussions I am having through my work with community based organisations and residents.

Over the past two weeks I have sat and listened to people talk about their voluntary work in a community enterprise which is working with vulnerable adults and young people, or the community activists who are advocates and supporters of local residents as they navigate their way through the complexities of the welfare state.

Or there’s the Health Watch lead who is seeking to ensure that their role as advocates on behalf not just of patients is heard and respected. The media, however, seem pre-occupied not just with the usual photo opportunities that are part of any campaign but the stage managed ‘events’ which appear to rule out ‘ordinary’ people and have them replaced by party workers.

So ‘under the radar’ is a large network of connected (and sometimes unconnected) projects and organisations from food banks to community re-cycling schemes. Often these networks are embedded in their localities drawing in some diverse sets of interests and partners, from faith groups to schools to local professionals to single issue campaigners.

But in these networks and partnerships you are likely to hear quite different conversations from the ones offered by the media. These meetings and encounters in communities over quite specific issues are usually person driven ,from the Living Wage Campaign, to improving adult literacy and everything in between, and they offer a very different idea of politics and how we construct political conversations.

Why does this matter? For two reasons, I think. Firstly, they suggest that there is a much bigger desire to talk about what is really going on than might be assumed from reading the newspaper, and secondly they tend to be quite results focussed. They are practical discussions. And whilst they might become pragmatic at the expense of other things, fairness, equality and social justice, they do open up the space for these broader and deeper conversations.

There is a risk that as May 7th gets closer the national conversation will have closed down opportunities for this more philosophical and open dialogue.

It is happening. I have sat and listened to the conversations and listened too as individuals recount their stories and weave together an alternative narrative on ideas of ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’ and ‘change’.