Dr Geof Hill
The Investigative Practitioner
Previously in this blog I have talked about Provenance and its role in initiating practice-led inquiry. (supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2019/10/16/practitioner-inquiry-and/).
Alongside an inquirer investigating their professional practice through Provenance is a parallel exploration of the policies that (possibly) have informed and shaped the practice being investigated. Davies (2008) describes this as a policy provenance. A policy provenance explores the historical collection of policies incorporating embedded decisions and terminology, that contribute to constructing a practice. Policies affect both the decisions made about certain practices and the language being used to describe certain aspects of practice within the policy.
The focus of the research supervisor’s friend blog is ‘research supervision’ practice. A policy that was instrumental in shaping research supervision practice was the Australian Higher Education Policy Document (1988). This policy changed the ways in which the government funded research, and specifically doctoral research, so that the funding was dependant on completions. As a result, the policy is often cited as the incentive for providing research supervisor professional development . The policy was also the forerunner to the Australian Research training scheme (RTS) which was introduced in 2001. http://hdr.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2420/~/hdr—information-about-the-research-training-program%2Fscheme-%28rtp%2Frts%29 which was upgraded in 2017 to the Research Training program by the Conservative (Australian) Minister Christopher Pyne. Each of these Federal policy initiatives informed that nature of and expectations about research supervision in Australia. At a local level, individual universities formulated their university policies to accommodate these changes.
Davies’ (2008) use of the term Provenance in conjunction with policies draws on a concept that is more readily associated with the study of arts and artefacts. The term Provenance is a nominalisation (making of a noun) of the french verb ‘provenir – to come from’ (Oxford English dictionary). It refers to the life story of an item or collection of (art) items as well as to the record of its ultimate derivation and passage through the hands of its various owners. The term originated in arts and antiquities discourse.
Provenance or exploring the history of a practice is prevalent in particular types of research such as practice-led inquiry (Grey, 1996) and first-person action inquiry (Reason & Bradbury, 2001), and is referred to in the research discourse by a range of terms such as ‘auto poiesis’ or ‘how we do what we do?’ (Maturana, 2002, p. 34), ‘reflexive ethnography’ (Finlay, 2002, p. 536), ‘self-reconnaissance’ (Dillon, 2008, p. 4), ‘reflection on the pre-reflexive consciousness of past experience’ (Hauw, 2009, p. 342), ‘auto-ethnography’ (Marshall, 2011, p. 249) and ‘fore-having’ (Johns, 2010, p. 14).
What does Policy Provenance involve?
Undertaking a policy provenance requires a researcher to develop an hypothesis of how different policies shaped a practice. Because policy provenance is intended to illuminate changes in a practice, a researcher needs to be mindful of three things:
- The chronology. As the purpose of a policy provenance is to illuminate the way in which policy has constructed practice, the chronology of the policies is important. As one policy replaces another, the embedded arguments for change trace the provenance of the practice the policies are endeavouring to change.
- The debate. Each time a policy is initiated it usually generates debate. Those who believe the policy is successful will explain what policy success means and how a particular policy meets these criteria. Those who believe a policy is not successful will equally explain what policy success means and use the example of a particular policy to outline an argument for failure. These debates are made by initially by members of parliament introducing policy, and following implementation of a policy can also be made by policy analysts commenting on how successful or otherwise a particular government has been based in the efficacy of their policies. Sometimes the commentary on policy will incorporate philosophical arguments in order to explore certain criteria for success of failure. One common success criteria is whether a policy empowers or disempowers stakeholders, and to discuss this analysts might draw on a range of established philosophy about power.
- The practice. The point of undertaking a policy provenance is to shine a light on the practice, thus the focus of a policy provenance is the ways in which policy has informed the practice rather than analysing the worth or content of the policies that shaped it. A policy provenance also shines a light on the language used to discuss the practice that can at times include acronyms used to talk about a practice
A dissertation chapter dedicated to the influence of policy on a practice may initially be used to illuminate the language that is used to discuss the practice being investigated, and sometimes the acronyms that populate that language. As a wider range of policies are explored the chapter can often support an argument to say that a practice was contested, and the interacting policies provide evidence of the contest or debate. Such a chapter could also provide argument for a practice being ‘challenging to undertake or implement’ because of conflicting policy agendas.
Supervising policy provenance
As a policy provenance is intended to illuminate a given professional practice, a supervisor’s predominant role is to read and comment on the emergent argument/illumination. They would be looking for a clear argument about how the policies informed
- Focus and
- Drew attention to policy stakeholders.
Examples of the different types of checking and commenting a supervisor might undertake include:
- Checking the chronology of the policies. Policies usually follow a chronological order. Subsequent policies often involve a rewrite of previous policies. If a candidate is endeavouring to show how a practice has been informed by policy, then having the policies in an appropriate chronological order is a key element of the strength of their policy provenance.
- Checking the accuracy of policy documents. Firstly making sure that a document is actually a policy and not one of the discussion papers or feeding in papers to a decision. Documents related to policy can often be referred to as green papers and white papers. A green paper is usually a draft or preliminary discussion for a policy introduced whereas a white paper is the policy enacted.
- Distinguishing between documents that describe how a policy impacted on practice and those that offer a critique of these interventions.
- Clarifying whether a commentary is about a specific policy or whether it is commenting on a set of policies – for example, policies issues by a specific governing party. A second clarification is whether the commentary is about policy in general or about a specific policy.
- Making sure that the policy provenance argument shows how the practice is influenced by the policy. The text of many policies is rhetoric, and while they appear to talk a lot about an issue, the rhetoric may provide minimal impact on the actual practices. Some policy initiatives are reworking of previous policies. Clarifying whether the original policy or the reworked policy was the greater influence.
- Distinguishing between policy analysis and policy provenance. Policy provenance and policy analysis are two different types of writing. Provenance is intended to illuminate how the sequence of policy initiatives shaped a particular practice. Policy analysis is attempting to illuminate how the policy impacted on society. Often the policy analysis explores issues of power and examines who stands to benefit (or be empowered) by a particular policy initiative and who does not benefit (or is dis-empowered). In some policy analysis it is pertinent to draw on the iconic philosophical references because they speak generally about major social issues – such as power.
he commentary provided as a supervisor reads the unfolding policy provenance can also inspire subsequent discussions: for example, raising comments about the introduction of terminology being used can give reference points for other commentary on the practice using the language. The language used by someone commenting on a policy can also situate the time of their commentary.
Australian Government (1988) Higher Education: a policy statement. Australia. Department of Employment, Education and Training Higher education : a policy statement | National Library of Australia (nla.gov.au)
Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2001) http://hdr.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2420/~/hdr—information-about-the-research-training-program%2Fscheme-%28rtp%2Frts%29
Davies, C. (2008) Understanding the Policy Process. In Fraser, S. and Matthews, S. (Eds) The Critical Practitioner in Social Work and Health Care. London, U.K.: Sage.
Dillon, P (2008) Reconnaissance as an unconsidered component of Action Research. Action Learning Action Research Journal, 13(1), 4-17.
Finlay, L (2002). ”Outing” the Researcher: The Provenance, Process, and Practice of Reflexivity, Qualitative Health Research, 12, 531-545.
Hauw, D. (2009). Reflective practice in the heart of training and competition: the course of experience analysis for enhancing elite acrobatics athletes’ performances, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 10(3), 341-352.
Johns, C. (2010). Guided Reflection. A narrative approach to advancing professional practice. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.
Marshall, J. (2011). Images of changing practice through reflective action research. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24(20), 244–256.
Maturana, H.R. (2002). Autopoiesis, Structural coupling and Cognition: a history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition, Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 9(3-4), p. 5- 34.
Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (2008). Introduction, in Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (Eds), The Sage Handbook of Action Research, (2nd Ed), London, U.K.: Sage, 1-13.