What's a policy maker doing at a research conference?: Mediating stronger partnerships between research, policy and practice

Year: 2010

Author: Hartnell-Young, Elizabeth, Vacirca, Elvira

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper, written from the stance of central government policy makers, explores the sometimes tense relationships between researchers, practitioners and education policy makers in a context where evidence-based policy is espoused by governments. It is based on a belief that research in education affects, and is affected by, multiple stakeholders, and that if we are to strengthen the role of education research as a public good, making a difference to society, then we need a model and a practice that can bridge stakeholder interests. The current quest in school education policy making for ‘what works’ is influenced by economic imperatives, increased accountability for schools and teachers, and international evidence that indicates the value of early intervention to improve learning. A new era of Commonwealth-state relations and national reforms in Australia is driving policy makers to seek timely, useful evidence from a range of sources. For researchers, the drive to publish in quality journals is constant and measurable, while influencing policy is less tangible and may take a long time. Practitioners are in an interesting third space: encouraged to innovate, to reflect on data and to research their own practice, they also often lack the time and expertise to assess their efforts to influence policy or publish their findings and ideas. Using Wenger's (1998) theory of communities of practice as a frame, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria is considered in this paper as a system example. One aim of the paper is to clarify the relationships between those involved in education policy, research and practice (researchers, policy makers, teachers and other staff, sometimes students), in order to add value to research and increase its use in decision-making. By describing and reflecting on some emerging initiatives in Victoria, we suggest how we might achieve shared goals through brokering relationships in a new community of practice.

Key Phrase: policy, education research, communities of practice, partnerships