Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Action! Young people as researchers and decision-makers

Research Fellow and City of Edinburgh Council youth worker Christina McMellon reports on exploring the Young Edinburgh Action approach to effective participation.

Young Edinburgh Action (YEA) is an innovative approach to implementing the City of Edinburgh Council’s Young People’s Participation Strategy, the aim of which is to facilitate young people’s meaningful participation in partnership working and decision-making. YEA supports young people to identify and research issues that matter to them in Edinburgh. The findings from action research carried out by young people are shared with senior decision makers at ‘conversations for action’ where plans are developed based on the young people’s recommendations for improving services.

The YEA approach is informed by the views of young people and professionals, academic theory and the need for local government to evidence the work that they do. YEA has developed a partnership with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships to share the learning from this approach. This partnership, headed up by Professor Kay Tisdall from University of Edinburgh, was awarded a Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant by The University of Edinburgh’s College of Humanities and Social Science to create a short film about young people’s experiences of being a young researcher. The film will be used to stimulate discussion among academics and practitioners about the role of young people as researchers and about young people’s participation more broadly.

YEA: It’s a Film” takes viewers through the YEA action research process, including a focus upon impact, and gives a range of practical examples. One such example is of a group currently working on gender inequality: They held a research event for 60 young people who agreed that it is important to challenge gender stereotypes at an early age. The group decided to write a storybook for children aged 4-6 and worked with an illustrator to develop a story called ‘Alex and Charlie’ that looks at a day in the life of two young friends. After a conversation for action where the group members presented their work, City of Edinburgh Council agreed to underwrite the costs of publishing the book and gifting two copies to every nursery and primary school in Edinburgh. The process is not, however, always straightforward and the film does not shy away from stating the challenges (and benefits) for young people of being involved with the project.

The film is accompanied by a CRFR briefing paper written by Council staff that outlines the YEA approach: Young Edinburgh Action: Reinvigorating young people's participation in Edinburgh.

Young people are currently working on their own briefing paper which will complete a trio of resources exploring the YEA approach and stimulating meaningful discussion about young people being researchers.


Watch 'YEA:It's a Film' online here
Download the CRFR Briefing 'Young Edinburgh Action: Reinvigorating young people's participation in Edinburgh' here

Monday, 8 August 2016

Five tips for getting knowledge into action

This post, written by CRFR co-director Sarah Morton, was originally published on the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research, (KNAER)/Réseau d’échange des connaissances pour la recherche appliquée en éducation (RECRAE) blog.

I think we are at a good time in the knowledge mobilisation field. We have built a body of research that explains a lot about what helps and hinders knowledge getting used to aid decision making in policy and practice. (see Oliver 2014). We are developing rewards and incentives to help academics get research out of the academy (e.g http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/innovation/policies/), and we are at least paying lip service to the idea that policy and practice should be informed by the latest evidence (KNAER is a good example).

Despite this, there are still many pitfalls along the way, and it is often easier to identify where things went wrong rather than success stories. The five tips I have identified below will not surprise many readers of this blog, and yet they are often the pitfalls that I see in practice. I’d really welcome any comments from readers about whether these are issues that you see in your practice, if I have missed something major, or if you disagree completely!

Five tips for getting knowledge into action:

1. Plan ahead

Any good project or process involves careful planning, but how often is evidence-use included in the plan? If researchers want their research to have impact, a well-planned user engagement and KMb strategies have been shown to be effective (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/files/research/evaluation-and-impact/taking-stock-a-summary-of-esrc-s-work-to-evaluate-the-impact-of-research-on-policy-and-practice/). On the policy or practice side, valuing evidence, showing leadership and embedding evidence into organisational practices are all key.

So what would a planned evidence use process look like? For those from policy or practice it might consider how evidence will frame any project or development (http://www.crfr.ac.uk/assets/CRFR_ESS_IS_Evidence_base_briefing.pdf) , how it will be considered and built on, what will be done when people don’t agree on what the evidence says, and how evidence will be accessed, analysed and interpreted. For research teams and partners it would consider who will be engaged and involved, what methods are best for engaging stakeholders and how the research might contribute to change. This needs to move beyond simple ideas of making research accessible, into more complex and process focussed projects. (I have written about this much more extensively here http://rev.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/4/405.abstract)

2. Get the right people round the table

In our evidence to action projects About Families (http://www.crfr.ac.uk/projects/current-projects/about-families/) and the Evidence Request Bank (http://www.crfr.ac.uk/projects/current-projects/evidencebank) we learnt a lot about who is involved in evidence-use processes. Like others taking a systems-thinking approach (e.g. Best and Holmes 2010) we believe that it is essential to include a range of key actors in any knowledge mobilisation process. This would include considering the skills mix of any team in accessing, interpreting and animating evidence of different types. Any systems change also needs to include the perspectives of all key players within the system. Depending on the size of the change project these views might be represented in person, or through consultation of various kinds.

3. Have the conversation

Often the starting point for evidence use projects is the evidence itself, but there are a variety of discussions and framings that are essential for evidence to action. What is evidence needed for? What kinds of evidence might be useful? How will they be interpreted? How will evidence inform change processes? Who needs to be involved? Research doesn’t speak for itself so relationships are key to evidence to action. Effective facilitation of knowledge mobilisation needs an ongoing sense of open dialogue, regular revisiting of planned aims, interrogation of context, and keeping the conversation going about the usefulness and relevance of evidence. We worked with Research Impact (http://researchimpact.ca/) and NCCPE (https://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/) to develop a manifesto for partnership research that can help frame some of this conversation http://www.crfr.ac.uk/manifesto-for-partnership-research/.

4. Focus on the process

Using evidence is not a one-off event, but an ongoing process. If people feel they have ‘done’ knowledge mobilisation then they are missing a trick. Using and reusing evidence, checking as programmes develop, and building up more evidence as events unfold are all essential parts of successful knowledge mobilisation. An ongoing focus on the processes can open up new opportunities, ensure ground is not lost, help address conflict and tension, and assess changing contexts and their implications for KMb. Overall a focus on processes helps to ensure knowledge mobilisation continues to be as effective and relevant as it can be.

5. Learn, evaluate, review

I said in the opening of this blog that we are in a good place in terms of understanding barriers and facilitators to knowledge mobilisation (although a recent review is opening up this conversation http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/using-evidence-what-works). We are in a less clear place about what strategies and methods are most effective in which circumstances (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299400/). As a community of knowledge mobilisers we need to develop evaluation methods, reflect more deeply and write up what we find out. My own approach to this has been published here http://rev.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/4/405.abstract. Every project needs a learning, review and evaluation process, even if on a simple team scale. As the field matures this will be essential in honing the craft, creating training programmes and developing the most effective strategies.

So those are my five tips for getting knowledge into action. How do they resonate with your own experience? What might you add? What resources do you use? I look forward to continuing the conversation: leave a comment below or find us on Twitter @CRFRtweets.

Best, A. and B. Holmes (2010). "Systems thinking, knowledge and action: towards better models and methods." Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice 6: 145-159.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Getting the (Law) Right for Every Child

This piece was originally posted on The University of Glasgow's School of Law blog on 29 July 2016 and is re-posted here with kind permission from the author CRFR associate researcher Professor Jane Mair, School of Law, University of Glasgow.

When the long awaited Supreme Court judgment was issued yesterday morning, the Scottish Government, behind the upbeat tweets and positive spin, must surely have groaned. The Named Person scheme, and the bigger project - the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 - of which it is only a part, has been a long time coming. From the consultation paper in 2012 to the planned implementation of the named person provisions in August 2016, and via a nationwide programme of training events and roadshows, this has been a major commitment and a lengthy process. To be halted – even temporarily and partially – at this late stage, must be frustrating to say the least.

It was not however yesterday’s judgement – a measured, insightful and wise opinion – which caused me to groan, but rather the draft Bill from which the now infamous named person provisions sprang. When I first heard about it, I wanted to like it. Who would not support an attempt to Get it Right for Every Child? Who does not want Scotland to be a good place (the best?) for children and young people to grow up? As the Supreme Court put it [para 91], “[t]he public interest in the flourishing of children is obvious”. As a family lawyer, any improvement in family law, particularly when it is child-focused, surely has to be a good thing. But nonetheless when I read the Bill, and the Act it became, I groaned – three times at least!

I groaned first as an old-style Scot; the product no doubt of that stereotypically dour Presbyterian upbringing. The motivational tone of management-speak, the self-belief in the power of individual intervention and the catchy GIRFEC strapline grate against my more measured, cautious, “let’s just do our best” brand of Scottishness. But that’s my problem and I am trying to adjust.

My second groan was as a lawyer. I care about the state of Scots law, family law in particular: not to derive some weird legalistic pleasure or for a narrow sense of academic satisfaction but because, if family law is to help and protect families, as it is intended to do, then it needs to be law that actually works. Statute should have structure. Like a well-constructed architectural model or a precisely planned electrical circuit, when lawyers look at legislation, they should be able to see how it will work. Who has the rights; what are the obligations; where are the thresholds? When is discretion triggered; what are the principles underpinning its exercise and where are the safeguards and remedies? The problems which law is designed to address are rarely simple, but simple and effective is what the law itself should strive to be. If we lawyers had not already noticed that the 2014 Act falls far short of these benchmarks, then the Supreme Court has surely left us in no doubt. While their decision was that the legislation is not competent, in the narrow sense of the legislative powers conferred on the Scottish Parliament by the Scotland Act 1998, in their observations they highlighted much wider concerns about the effectiveness of this as a legal framework. When the highly trained minds of the Supreme Court describe what has been created as a “logical puzzle” [para 37], there should be little doubt that this is law which will not work.

The problem may lie, at least in part, in the back story to the Act. The 2014 Act is an example of law which has grown out of practice. It is an attempt, well intentioned no doubt, to enshrine in law for all children the existing good practice already of benefit to some. From within the weighty portfolio of guidance, advice and training materials, which accompany this legislation, this comment offers some insight: “The text of a law rarely changes much on the ground; it’s how relevant organisations and individuals put that law into effect which determines its impact.” [CELCIS, Corporate Parenting Implementation Note 1] Of course, it’s the implementation that ultimately makes a difference, but the text of the law which underpins that implementation is vital. When this example of a Scottish statute is compared with models of good practice such as emanated from the Scottish Law Commission in the 1980s and 1990s, the deterioration in family law making is striking.

My third and final groan was as a parent and long standing reader of bedtime books. I groaned because I had read this particular story before and I feared it would not end well. I groaned at the Scottish legislation because it reminded me in so many ways of a wonderful series of books, by Lemony Snicket, which tell the sorry tale of children in need. Each time these children are exposed to danger, their corporate protectors wrap them more tightly in increasingly complex plans and burdensome processes, implemented by highly esteemed individuals with ever greater powers. How could those children not be safe? Sadly, of course, the common sense of the adults has been stripped away by over reliance on process and their innate ability to respond hampered by regulatory systems of compliance. And while the children repeatedly tell the adults where the danger lies, no one really listens. Before I incur the wrath of the wonderful Mr Snicket, who wrote those particular fictional tales, let me stress that his work has none of the structural or syntactical flaws of the Scottish legislation. Similarly, to the many real professionals who work with Scotland’s children, my concerns are not about your ability or commitment, but rather about the complexity and weight of process and procedure under which this legislation requires you to work.

So as the Scottish Ministers settle down to draft a response to the Supreme Court, I should like to suggest two pieces of weekend reading. First, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (in its original form), as a model of good legislation and secondly, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as a cautionary tale (2014, Egmont).

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Intimate and family practices, generational justice, environmental justice and global inequalities

CRFR co-director Professor Lynn Jamieson writes the final keynote speaker blog from our 5th International Conference: Unequal families and relationships.

The phrase ‘environmental justice’ is particularly used to point to the unfairness of the differential impact of environmental degradation and climate change that means those who suffer the most are those who are least responsible for the cause of the harm. It’s the activities of the minority of rich countries in the world who have disproportionately created global warming and the resulting climate change but the majority poor of the world who disproportionately suffer –the intensified drought and floods in regions where poverty already renders people extremely vulnerable, small nation-islands of the Pacific losing their home lands to the sea. The World Bank publishes international league tables of carbon footprints on a per person basis - the estimated total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of that country divided by their population. They put the average for 2011-2015 for the USA at 17 metric tons per person compared with 7.1 for the UK but there are 48 of the roughly 200 countries with less than one ton per person. The majority of countries of these are in Africa but they also include– Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Paraguay, Guatemala, Haiti, Togo, Tonga, the West Bank and Gaza.

In aspect of family, domestic and personal life involving food, water, energy and the consumption of other material resources as ‘stuff’, in the rich minority world people are ratcheting up much higher carbon footprint than their equivalent in the majority poor world. For example, a HOUSE OF LORDS European Union Committee 10th Report of Session 2013–14 noted ‘Consumers in industrialised countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. The global carbon footprint of wasted food has been estimated as more than twice the total greenhouse gas emissions of all road transportation in the United States (US)’ Not all food waste is at the level of households but in the UK about half of it is and the UK has the highest rate of food waste in Europe. Within the national contexts of the minority rich world, it’s the more affluent who are the major domestic producers of the harmful carbon emissions and the major consumers of irreplaceable global resources. So to stick with the example of food, in the UK, alongside the food waste we have households sometimes relying on foodbanks because they have no money to buy food. There are stark inequalities between rich and poor households in the UK in all aspects of consumption including domestic energy use and transport.

Ways in which people enact being a family or being in close relationships – family practices, practices of intimacy and displaying family - are often also practices of consumption. Families and relationships carry practices and values of consumption; they transmit dispositions to consume or conserve. Practices of gift giving, orientations to transport, food, water, energy use, shopping, spending, saving, recycling are shaped, carried, and sometimes transformed in families and relationships. Obviously this is not to suggest families and relationships are the whole story, they are embedded in, constrained or enabled by wider contexts. Sociologists of families and relationships study many aspects of the intersection of consumption with family and intimate practices but only a minority with awareness of issues of sustainability or a political interest in thinking about the conditions that would enable families and relationships to be part of the solution. This must change. Such a change does not mean subverting other political agendas, challenging homophobic heteronormativity, or gender inequality or racism or ethnic or religious division – all of these agendas can complement taking a more direct interest in modifying the trajectories of environmental catastrophe that we are currently on.

The term ‘intergenerational justice’ has been used in a range of ways reflecting the different usages of ‘generations’. In the context of climate change, intergenerational justice refers to the definition of sustainable development adopted in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development chaired by Brundtland 'Development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. Within studies of family, gender and intimate life there is considerable interest in shifts in balances of power and the nature of solidarity that offer clues about circumstances that enable and constrain reconfigurations of justice and equality. There are also bodies of work documenting tension between understandings of fairness and how rules develop, operate and are modified in everyday lives. A great deal is now known about the shifts in power in intergenerational relationships and the related varied conditions of ‘the stalled revolution’ in gender equality. There are significant bodies of work concerned with how people draw boundaries around caring for and about other people. Boundary work is often gendered and boundaries can be classed, raced and sexualised. Work on stepfamilies, for example, shows class differences in how family configurations are altered by separation and reformation of couple relationships. Scholars of families and relationships have done a great deal of work around issues relevant to intergenerational justice without linking it to the concerns of the Bundtland report.

I invite you to consider the structural and cultural conditions that enable the two extremes that are alive in writing about families and relationships – ‘amoral familism’ (Banfield, 1958) and ‘world families’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2013). ‘Amoral familism’ refers to a set of rules of conduct that focus on the short-run advantage of the family household and never further the interests of the group or community unless this is maximising the narrow family interest. Banfield argued that amoral familism was the outcome of a complex combination of material, economic and cultural factors. The majority of villagers lived in extreme poverty with no access to redress, being served by education and health systems which perpetuated illiteracy and ill health. He suggested that childrearing practices fitted with and perpetuate this code of conduct, combining indulgence with arbitrary and frequent punishment – a combination that communicates ‘there is no underlying principles but only fate’ and created emotional dispositions that work against a sense of self-efficacy and faith in making your own biography. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim coined ‘world family’ bringing together what the wider literature calls transnational families (family relationships that span national boundaries) and ‘mixed relationships’ that is relationships across boundaries such as ethnic, national and religious boundaries. The purpose of the term is a claim of potentiality - that world families could be a transformative. They are suggesting a dialectic between the intimate practices within world families and undermining the boundaries and inequalities of the system of nation states. There is a lot stacked against this. The structural and cultural conditions in the UK at the moment seem extremely hostile to ‘world families’; the Brexit move is clearly a hardening of national boundary and is seen by much of the rest of the world as clearly unwelcoming. However, is there also some hope in reports of local actions in memory and solidarity of the victims of the mass murder of gay people in Orlando?


1987 Brundland Report: Our Common Future. Oxford: World Commission on Environment and Development.
Banfield, E.C. (1958). The moral basis of a backward society. New York: The Free Press.
Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2013). Distant love: John Wiley & Sons.

You can follow live tweets from the conference using the hashtag #CRFR2016 on Twitter.

Families, intimacy and social inequalities

David Morgan is an expert in the sociology of the family. He is Emeritus Professor at the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester. Here, Professor Morgan explains some of the issues he will address in his keynote presentation ‘Family and Intimate Practices and Social Inequalities’ at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families and Relationships.

Many sociologists have examined the links between families and inequalities. For example John Goldthorpe describes the “the inherent ‘stickiness’ between the class positions of parents and their children”[i]. This can be seen as a call for the close examination of what happens within families when discussing the persistence of social inequalities. This should include examination of those at the higher levels of the class system, as Goldthorpe argues “more advantaged families now use their economic, cultural and social edge to ensure their children stay at the top of the social class ladder”[ii].

In my presentation at the CRFR international conference I will re-consider some aspects of families, including inheritance (especially of wealth), housing, how families accumulate and use their social capital (like networks, knowledge and other resources) and how these practices are seen to be normal and natural in society. While I focus on family practices this type of analysis can be extended to include personal communities and the wider networks of friends and acquaintances.

Much of this is not exactly new and much of the material is readily available. What is required is a recognition that everyday family practices can, using a different pair of spectacles, also be seen as class practices. 


Professor Morgan is a keynote speaker at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families & Relationships. You can read a brief introduction to his presentation 'Family and Intimate Practices and Social Inequalities' here.

You can follow live tweets from the conference using the hashtag #CRFR2016 on Twitter.

[i] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/13/decades-of-educational-reform-no-social-mobility
 [ii] http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-03-14-decades-educational-expansion-had-little-effect-social-mobility

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

(Multi)culturalizing Inequalities: Citizenship Contradictions of Marriage Transnationalization in South Korea/East Asia

Chang Kyung-Sup, PhD, Professor of Sociology at Seoul National University writes for us ahead of his keynote presentation today at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families & Relationships.

As in other societies, globalization has had many faces in South Korea. Since the early 2000s, for instance, South Korean men’s marriage with foreign women, mostly from less affluent Asian countries, has suddenly increased. This trend became significant initially between Korean Chinese women (Chaoxianzu) and poor urban men, and Han Chinese women were soon introduced to similar South Korean men. From around 2005, many local governments and rural communities began to approach Southeast Asian women – in particular, Vietnamese women – as brides for rapidly increasing “forced” bachelors in rural areas. The semi-public campaign of “sending rural bachelors to in-law’s home” (nongchonchonggak janggabonaegi, meaning making rural bachelors marry) spread quickly throughout the country, so South Korean villages suddenly became the very forefront of a sort of sociocultural cosmopolitanization. This has become perhaps the first societal initiative for openly promoting “multiculturalism” in Korean history as the South Korean government, at the urge of civilian experts and activists, formally adopted “the multicultural family support” policy and began various public programs for assisting foreign brides and their Korean families. All of a sudden, multiculturalism became a keyword not only in social policy but also in cultural and political policy. However, this policy has not only failed to address the structural problems that were responsible for the necessity of transnational marriages but also engendered other structural problems. My study analyzes such structural problems by examining the historical and institutional nature of South Korea’s formally promoted multiculturalism.

The “multicultural family support” policy seems to have culturally particularized the complex social and economic problems surrounding foreign brides, their Korean families, foreign laborers, and South Korean society as a whole. First, this policy has been exclusively applied to marriage migrants while openly excluding foreign guest-workers (despite their lengthier and more sizable presence) for no (multi)cultural reasons. Second, while the material and social status of foreign brides is basically determined by that of their Korean family members – most of whom are unfortunately poor and often old – the (multi)cultural policy alone has had no significant effect in improving the latter’s material fate. Third, despite a paternalistic social atmosphere for helping relieve foreign brides’ difficulties in Korean life, the multiculturalism drive has often neglected the asymmetrical gender dimension of social globalization.

Rapid marriage transnationalization and the accompanying multiculturalism drive are certainly a new component of globalized life in South Korea, but the country’s persistent structural inequalities involving laborers (now including foreign workers in increasing numbers), rural families, and women have had quite interesting manifestations in this process. These material problems have been (multi)culturally reframed in both the specific terms of the multicultural family support policy and the broad outlines of civilian multiculturalism. The main conclusion I wish to offer to this international conference is that multiculturalizing South Korea has failed to meaningfully address or redress various structural inequalities that foreign brides as laboring, rural, and women citizens share with foreign guest workers, foreign brides’ Korean families, and native women.


Professor Chang Kyung-Sup is a keynote speaker at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families & Relationships. You can read a brief introduction to his presentation here.

You can follow live tweets from the conference using the hashtag #CRFR2016 on Twitter.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Addressing inequalities across the generations

Ahead of her keynote presentation today at our 5th International Conference: Unequal Families and Relationships, Julia Brannen addresses how, in the context of a widening gap in the fortunes of different family generations in Britain today, it is important to examine how parents and their adult children manage inequalities and negotiate relationships.

Sociologists, amongst others, increasingly reflect on the way inequalities remain despite policies and programmes to tackle them. Looking at relationships across the generations in families is a useful way to understand the perpetuation of inequality. In our research we are particularly interested in how changes over time in institutions and cultural practices have influenced different generations’ lives, identities and experiences.

We have pioneered the use of a particular style of biographical narrative approach alongside a research design that involves understanding the perspectives of multiple members of the same families. This approach provides a rigorous framework to understand change and continuity in the transmission of ideas and practices across generations over the long term. It also shows how the different resources held and accessed by families (e.g. time, knowledge, contacts and networks, as well as money) enable and support the construction of different identities. New generations may reject such resources or they may act upon them in new ways within the historical context in which their lives unfold.

Even though relationships between parents and adult children in Western societies can expect to last 20 or even 30 years and longer, they have been subject to little research. By focusing on a family whose life has been marked by migration, our research examines how different generations manage change and inequality. In particular, the research describes the relations between a migrant grandfather and his UK-born adult son.


Julia Brannen is Professor of the Sociology of the Family at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University College London. You can read a brief introduction to her conference presentation Inequality and intergenerational family relationships: methodological and theoretical issues here.

You can follow live tweets from the conference using the hashtag #CRFR2016 on Twitter.

Fathers and Sons: Generations, Families and Migration authored by Julia Brannen is available from Palgrave Macmillan