23 SES 02 C, Evidence and Practice
This study is situated in discussions about the ‘knowledge society’ and ‘knowledge-based economy’. (Olssen and Peters, 2005), which focus on the production, dissemination and application of knowledge as the key factor in processes of ongoing economic, social or political development and reform (OECD 1996; Stehr 1994). Our focus is current developments in the ongoing institutionalization of evidence-based knowledge in different nations, in what some call a ‘post-truth’ world (Davis, 2017). We explore the discursive strategies used to legitimatize knowledge, present it as trustworthy and provide confidence for its use. In particular, we investigate the role of non-academic knowledge producers in generating ‘evidence’ of ‘what works’ and ‘best practice’ in education (see Wiseman 2010; Biesta 2010).
‘Post truth’, a phrase which emerged from the political events of 2016, refers, for many, to how politicians are deliberately partial, biased or unclear in their accounts (Davis, 2017), lessening public confidence in their claims. But this is just one feature of a broader phenomenon. A crisis in the authority of tradition and scientific certainty dominates late modernity (Bauman, 2000; Giddens, 1990), challenging the inevitability of human progress and leading to a period of more relativistic uncertainty and risk (Gray, 1995). In this context, new science of education has emerged (Whitty and Furlong, 2017) which promises to find out ‘what works’ through the application of rigorous research, typically in the form of randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews and using methods taken from the natural sciences. Bernstein (1996; 1999) refers to such knowledge traditions as singulars because of their discrete substantive and clear legitimization discourses.
Defining trust as ‘the vesting of confidence in persons or in abstract systems, made on the basis of a ‘leap of faith’ which brackets ignorance or lack of information’ (1991: 244), Giddens argues that in this fluid context we have no alternative other than to trust institutions of government and civil society. Davies (2014), however, argues that neoliberalism gives the market the authority once invested in individuals through the rhetoric that people are naturally competitive. Hence, the authority of persuasive ideas and value positions, of rigorous research, argument and evidence or of debate and consensus - that is, of the education disciplines of history, philosophy, psychology and sociology in England or of Bildung, Erziehung, Didaktik and Pädagogik in Germany, also represented as singulars in Bernstein’s terms - is replaced by faith in emergent, or what Bernstein calls practical knowledge, through the workings of an ‘invisible hand’.
In this paper we focus on newly emerged national brokerage agencies (or knowledge brokers/ knowledge mediators), which offer services in research, reviews and consulting to provide ‘better’ knowledge for ‘better’ decisions,. Brokerage agencies aim to bring together stakeholders from different fields, like researchers, politicians and practitioners. Such knowledge mediators and brokerage agencies include (see OECD 2007: 53-105; OECD/CERI 2017: 53):
- Evidence for Policy and Practice Information (EPPI) Centre in the UK since 1993:
- Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) in the UK since 2008
- The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) in the UK
- What Works Clearinghouse in the US since 2002
- Knowledge Chamber (Kennis Kamer) in the Netherlands since 2006
- Danish Clearinghouse for Educational Research (EIPEE) since 2006
- Iterative Best Practice Syntheses in New Zealand
- The Canadian Council on Learning from 2004 until 2009
In our research project we focus on the following research question:
How do the brokerage agencies and knowledge mediators create legitimation and trust in research and research findings in context of late modernity and the post-truth world?
This project is ongoing, and here we focus on the theoretical background of the project and then present a documentary and discourse analysis of papers and knowledge products taken from the specific websites of the mentioned brokerage agencies in the UK. This uses studies and reports on educational issues produced by the brokerage agencies, which are openly accessible on their national and international homepages and described as research on education. Using Bernstein’s (1990; 1996; 1999) analysis of knowledge traditions and the formation of pedagogy through the pedagogic device, we consider: - What issues does knowledge production address? From where do these issues arise? How do international and national organisations construct these? What is the role of comparative test data? How do they link to national reform agendas? - What is the range and extent of existing research drawn upon? How is it identified and selected? What is the nature and focus of research undertaken by agencies themselves? - How is research recontextualised into a form in which it can be used to inform policy making and practice in processes of commodification? How does this process of recontextualisation change knowledge produced through research? - How is knowledge legitimated? What is done to provide confidence in research findings reported and ensure analyses and recommendations are trustworthy? - Which other actors are involved in these processes and how? Whom are the key users of outputs? How are outputs tailored to them?
Whilst most discussions are focused on the changing nature of knowledge production in universities and the changing relationships between universities and society as their role changes from being within civic society to one which is more commercial (cf. Gibbons et al, 1994; Etzkowitz et.al., 1998). In this study we provide insights into current developments in knowledge production and commodification processes at institutions outside of universities. Our view is that both the qualitative nature of the knowledge produced by brokerage agencies and knowledge mediators and the processes by which this is legitimated and rendered trustworthy, are consequences of knowledge being treated as a commodity, produced in organisations whose primary aims are commercial. Brokerage agencies deliver commercial services including training, systematic reviews and reports, consultancy, research and evaluation and were funded by government grants (for example, in 2015/16 the budget of The Social Care Institute for Excellence was approximately £5 million). Such agencies define themselves as experts and try to give simple and understandable answers to complex questions, especially in the field of education. But in doing so, these brokerage agencies use particular concepts of evidence, with ‘evidence-based research knowledge’ or knowing ‘what counts’ and ‘what works’ being key elements in their underlying argumentation. Against this background, such brokerage agencies contribute to the scientification of the social, educational and political field. Such knowledge mediators and the underlying arguments about evidence arise increasingly in the UK, but are not currently so dominant in Germany. This is unsurprising, because the national embedded educational research discourse shows a long tradition of evidence-based approaches and discussions in the case of Anglo-Saxon countries (Lawn & Furlong, 2010, p. 8). However, with emerging neoliberalism and output orientations in Germany, no doubt this will become more influential in time.
Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press. Bernstein, B. (1990) The structure of pedagogic discourse, London, RoutledgeFalmer. Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: theory, research, critique, London, Taylor Francis. Bernstein, B. (1999) Vertical and horizontal discourse: an essay, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20(2), 157-173. Biesta, G. J. J. (2010). Why ‘What Works’ Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29:491–503 Davies, W. (2014) The limits of neoliberalism: Authority, sovereignty and the logic of competition, London, Sage. Davis, E. (2017) Post-Truth, London, Little Brown. Etzkowitz, H. et.al. (1998): The endless transition: A ‘triple helix’ of university-industry-government relations. Minerva 36, 203-208 Gibbons, M. et.al (1994): The new production of knowledge. The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage. Giddens, A. (1990) The consequences of modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity, Cambridge, Polity Press. Gray, J. (1995) Enlightenment's wake: politics and culture at the close of the modern age, London, Routledge. Lawn, M. & Furlong, J. (2010). The disciplines of education in the UK: Between the ghost and the shadow. In J. Furlong & M. Lawn (Eds.), Disciplines of Education. Their role in the future of education research (pp. 1-12). London: Routledge. OECD (1996): Knowledge-based Economy. OECD Publishing OECD (2007): Evidence in Education. Linking Research and Policy. OECD Publishing OECD/ CERI (2017): Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession. OECD Publishing Olssen, M. & Peters, M.A. (2005) Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: from the free market to knowledge capitalism, Journal of Education Policy, 20 (3), p313-345. Stehr, N. (1994): Knowledge Societies. SAGE Publications Whitty, G. & Furlong, J. (Eds) (2017) Knowledge and the Study of Education: an international comparison, Symposium Books, Oxford. Wiseman, A. W. (2010): The Uses of Evidence for Educational Policymaking: Global Contexts and International Trends. In A. W. Wiseman; G. Whitty; J. Tobin & A. Tsui: Review of Research in Education, Vol. 34, What Counts as Evidence in EducationalSettings? Rethinking Equity, Diversity, and Reform in the 21st Century (2010), pp. 1-24
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