I will recognise the potential limitations of prioritising academic expertise in the research that I carry out.
By doing this I will:
- both acknowledge and value the potential for non-academic expertise to enrich research projects
- consider ways to incorporate different types of expertise to benefit research methodologies and findings
It might be obvious to say that researching the real world is different to living in it, but it is an important distinction to reflect on when planning and doing research. Traditionally most scholarly research has been carried out by people, with academic training and expertise, at a remove from what it is they are studying. There is a well-articulated rationale for this, that is sometimes promoted as the best way to approach research because, it is argued, it enables the researcher to maintain a distance from their subject matter (Hammersley and Atkinson 2007). This suggests that distance gives neutrality and perspective, a lack of which can compromise the integrity of the research. Such arguments suggest that involving the non-academic expert, whether that be a practitioner or an expert by experience, can compromise research because individuals may have their own agenda and may not be able to be impartial – which is considered crucial in scientific research (Kiesner and Leiner 2009).
Managing that tension isn’t easy, and these challenges need to be taken seriously, however, nobody ever said that carrying out good quality research would be easy. Also we are aware that much research doesn’t have the impact that it might. It is argued that one of the reasons for this might be that it isn’t familiar to, or understood by, those people it is hoping to impact upon (Kitchin 2000). It seems to me, therefore, that how to incorporate wide-ranging views of different kinds of experts needs careful consideration. To begin with the idea of impartiality of research comes from a scientific base, the sense that you simply prove or disprove what you find. However, this seems too simplistic an understanding of formal research because there are many examples of scientists interpreting their findings in ways that align with their interests, and also of scientists having credibility given to their expertise because of their status (Jones et al 2006). Similarly, there are those that argue non-academic experts have an agenda and can be representing a point of view, which is, at worst, promoting their own perspective.
I would argue though that we have to find ways of addressing this issue in relation to non- academic experts because, as both Aristotle and Hayek have advocated, experience gives a unique and important insight that society ignores at its peril (Hardie 2013). There are interesting examples given of research being enhanced by non-academic expertise, not least when experts by experience have identified ‘important methodological inadequacies’ (Carr and Fleischmann cited Preston-shoot 2007).
To ensure that research is relevant it seems to me to be necessary to recognise that competing issues need be managed in a way that benefits the research findings and I would argue that relying on either at the exclusion of the other is problematic and not conducive to producing the highest quality research.
Coffey, A. (1999) The Ethnographic Self: Fieldwork and the Representation of Identity Sage: London
Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (2007) Ethnography Routledge: Oxon
Hardie, J. (2013) Evidently not enough: The limits of evidence-based policymaking. Ippr (Blog)
Kitchin, R. (2000) The Researched Opinions on Research: disabled people and disability research. Disability & Society vol 15 No 1 pp 25-47
Preston-Shoot, M. (2007) Whose lives and whose learning? Whose narratives and whose writing? Evidence and Policy vol 3 no 3 The Policy Press