Mobilising Socially Critical Research: A Reflection on the Research/Policy Interface

Year: 2018

Author: Boyask, Ruth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The British Educational Research Association’s Respecting Children and Young People project (2013 – 2015) engaged many methodologically, theoretically and substantively diverse educational researchers all committed to equality and social justice in developing clear statements of policy informed by research. The project centred on the production of a policy manifesto, Fair and Equal Education, and events and activities leading up to it, that was released prior to the 2015 Westminster general election. The policy manifesto was based on research synthesis of critical research, critical of the inequalities sustained by prevailing policy and practice, and its underpinning theories that are critical of society’s foundations. Education policy influence is hard to achieve, especially in England, but is especially so for socially critical researchers.
Socially critical research is not essentially without value when created in a world dominated by practices of market exchange, but its value is restricted largely to its economic value rather than how useful it might be for developing socially just educational policies. The researcher who produces socially critical research oftentimes is positioned outside of the research/policy/practice nexus. Yet, being limited to the position of social critic is neither practical for researchers held to account for the impact of their research nor desirable for those who hold knowledge that may alleviate social ills.
Can socially critical researchers more actively pursue policy influence? This paper presents three important possibilities for strengthening pathways between critical research and policy. The first is for socially critical researchers to deepen understanding of and document the relationships between critical research and policy, especially when it highlights absences of or the marginalisation of critical knowledge or demonstrates productive relationships. The second is more careful consideration of the different roles critical researchers might adopt in respect of policy influence, for example to act as a pedagogue who educates on the findings of critical research rather than the critic who makes commentary from the margins. Third, researchers might be more selective in the contexts of engagement by distinguishing between different publics in their public engagement work, opting to engage with accessible publics rather than those in distant public policy spheres and recognising and contributing to alliances across counterpublic spheres where compatible ideological or ethical discourses circulate and may come to influence the opinions of mainstream publics.