Having someone from the real world on board!

Earlier this year, Edward Luca, my colleague in another LISRA RADAR team, wrote a blog post about his experience of working as a practitioner with an academic researcher. For this month’s post, I thought I take a similar approach, but from a different perspective, and write about my experience of working as an academic researcher with a practitioner in our LISRA RADAR project…

July 2014 – When I was completing my PhD in 2014, I realised I had a passion in the “So what?” of research. I was finding the translation of the theoretical outcome of research into practical solutions so fascinating and I was thinking the nexus of research and practice could be an area for further developing my interest. So since then, I’ve been developing this interest in bringing research and practice together wherever I could. And in the whole process, I have been trying to wear an academic researcher hat and a someone-from-the-real-world-who-was-going-to-use-my-research-output’s hat at the same time.

However it was only when I started this LISRA RADAR project that I had the opportunity of having that actual “real world someone” in the research team (rather than me putting myself in their shoes!) which allowed me to learn about the advantages of having them on board . The insight, experience, knowledge and connections from the real world they brought into the team have just been so invaluable and have continued to strengthening our research to a great extent.

But first of all, how did this collaboration begin? Let me go back a bit and give you a quick background on how the relationship started…

March 2016 – In early 2016 I was collecting data for a different project for which I was visiting public libraries to distribute my participant recruitment flyers. And what I was asking for: Just hanging my flyers on their notice boards!

It was in my visit to my practitioner-partner’s branch library where not only they kindly agreed to display the flyer, but also indicated their general interest in helping with my research in other ways, if they could, which was a nice offer! When I got back to my office, I sent them a thank-you note and said how impressed I was with their attitude…

September 2016 – A few months later the call for the LISRA RADAR grant was announced. One of the main requirements was the collaboration between an academic and a practitioner. And who do you think came to my mind first?

I emailed them, made an appointment and went to meet with them to see if they were still interested (and of course had the capacity!) to join me to form a team for a research collaboration. And fortunately the answer was yes! They introduced their Library Programming Coordinator as their best person to work with and our collaboration was launched (and resulted in a successful grant application funded by LISRA)…

November 2017 – We are now 11 months into the project. During this time, I’ve been observing the positive effects of having a practitioner on board in the research team. The role my practitioner colleague has been playing (and will continue to play) is tightly intertwined in the whole research process. However, I would like to discuss their contribution in three different phases of the project:

1- Research design: Having the opportunity to brainstorm the research problem I originally had in mind (i.e. what can the public library do about non-library user refugees and their information experience) with my practitioner colleague (and their colleagues in the library) who had really lived the problem assured that we were going to investigate a genuine problem. Also, during the process of project scope definition, we were very much taking advantage of their insights from the real world that made us confident we were setting up goals fitted to lives of real people.

2- Research implementation: I cannot emphasise enough on the critical role our practitioner collaborator played in conducting the research. For the purpose of this project, we needed to interviews refugees to Australia who came from different cultures with English as their 2nd or 3rd or even 4th language. To have open and rich conversation with them, we needed them to trust us, understand us and openly share with us their stories of information use in their lives. And having a practitioner on the team was a huge advantage!

Our practitioner colleague was very well-connected in communities of research population. These connections allowed us too to be introduced as a trusted connection in these communities. The result was a very quickly built rapport with our participants, who were eagerly accepting to talk to us. More importantly, our practitioner’s experience in working with people from different cultures and non-English speaking backgrounds came very useful in ensuring cultural considerations as well as using proper language and terminologies to effectively communicate with our participants at the time of interviews.

3- Research communication: Did I mention the passion I have in making my research as impactful and meaningful as possible? This is another area our practitioner colleague has been massively helping with.

When we were writing our abstract for the APLIC2018 conference, I observed how clearly our practitioner co-lead was seeing the implications of our research into the lives of the targeted communities and beyond. And no need to mention how valuable their critical feedback was to ensure that the communication in the abstract occurred in the most accessible way.

I’m confident that our practitioner collaborator will continue playing their role in meaningful translation of the theory into practice and promoting the impact of research within the community of real-world stakeholders.

So, how am I feeling about the whole experience? Well.. Overall, I consider this researcher-practitioner partnership as one of the most fruitful and unique research experiences I’ve had in the past few years. I very much enjoyed how collaboratively we managed the project and made decisions. I liked our back-and-forth dialogue at different stages of the project which helped us better define the project, enriched our research and let us insert multiple perspectives into our study.

Would I do another project with a practitioner on the team? Definitely! And this will be mainly due to the meaningfulness of such projects, the difference they would make and the impact they would have in people’s lives. And I’m so confident that well-established relationships of this kind could be drawn upon in the future for developing more research projects.

Now! What do “you” think about the combination of the academic-practitioner researcher? Do you have a different opinion to mine? Does it work for you? Do you have a similar experience that you would like to share with me and the rest of the LISRA project team? Whether you are an academic or a practitioner, I would love to learn about your story or perspective. So please feel free to comment on this post or send me an email.

One last thing! If you are attending the RAILS conference this year, make sure you attend the panel discussion run by ALIA Research Advisory Committee. They are going to discuss the issues around the research-practice nexus in LIS in Australia and how this could be strengthened. I’m sure the panel would love to learn about your experiences too!

– Elham (Ellie) Sayyad Abdi, Associate Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

@EllieAbdi

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