ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2014

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Approaches Towards Mixed-Method Measurement of Practice-Based-Research Outcomes – ‘Flows and Catchments’ as a Longitudinal Case Study.

Brad Warren, Patrick West, Jondi Keane

Building: Holme Building
Room: Sutherland Room
Date: 2014-12-08 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2014-11-25


‘Flows and Catchments’ is the collective name for an ongoing suite of Practice-Based Research projects seed-funded by Deakin University’s Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention (CMII) in 2011. Its focus is on the Volcanic Plains Region of Western Victoria, and it seeks to achieve an understanding of the area that retains its rich and lived complexity, without reduction to dis-associated empiricism or instrumentalisation. More recently, ‘Flows and Catchments’ has also expanded its scope internationally, taking in other regions in places as diverse as Ireland and Qatar. Taken collectively, the ‘Flows and Catchments’ research question concerns how the ecological creativity of the region under consideration may be transformed into an ecology of well-being of benefit to the local community.
Now, some three years after the project’s inception, it becomes pertinent to explore the extent to which well-being has been facilitated. Some encouraging anecdotal data has already emerged, but a more organised, methodical approach, bringing a range of qualitative and (to a lesser but still present extent) quantitative practices to bear on ‘Flows and Catchments’ is now called for. In short, this paper seeks to explore the extent to which the success of ‘Flows and Catchments’ can be measured. The motivation for doing so, beyond academic interest – a more than adequate drive in itself – is that demonstrable outcomes constitute compelling evidence when it comes to attracting further research funding / partners.
This paper seeks to explore the form that such investigation, if you like, into ‘Flows and Catchments’ might take. Immediately a number of methodologies suggest themselves: semi-structured interviewing; focus groups; the recording of data concerning attendance at events; surveys instruments comprised of questions with both qualitative and quantitative components. Nonetheless, a number of dilemmas immediately present themselves: If we were to begin, say, with a survey instrument for well-being with pre-established validity, how best to adjust it for application to ‘Flows and Catchments’ contexts?; and could the same instrument be used for all of the ‘Flows and Catchments’ suite, since the range of PBR projects it encompasses is extremely diverse? While there are statistical procedures that can be brought into play here, the problems are compounded when we recognise that measurement with any degree of precision remains antithetical to PBR; while community members might not object to completing a survey at the conclusion of their participation in a PBR event, to further survey them beforehand so as to establish a baseline (a classic pre- and post-test design) would likely be detrimental to PBR’s effectiveness, as it would impose the rigidity of a scientific experiment on the process as a whole, and would thus be contraindicated. Therefore, unless population samples could be sufficiently matched for a control group to be utilised, or adequate time had passed for repeat-data to be gathered from annual events, a post-PBR survey remains a general indicator of well-being in a community following PBR, rather than a direct measure of PBR’s effectiveness. Nonetheless, it is maintained that this a lack of precision does not detract from the usefulness of such an exercise. Drawing in part on data from qualitative interviews with PBR practitioners and participants, the paper seeks to engage with and negotiate these problems and their interrelationships with one another, with the end result being to put forward a workable and effective project design.