The little engine that could - ideas into practice

Iriss.fm, episode 70
Published on 17 Jan 2014

Dr Katharine Dill, lecturer at Queen's University Belfast and founding Executive Director of PART (Practice and Research Together) spoke at Iriss's sixth annual AGM on 27 November 2013. Her presentation was entitled, 'The little engine that could': creating, building and sustaining a Canadian-based knowledge exchange programme. This programme is known as PART (Practice and Research Together). In this episode, Dr Katharine Dill speaks about putting ideas into practice and gives an example of implementing system-wide change.

Date of recording
Audio transcript

What follows is a direct transcription of the audio recording, made by Iriss specifically to assist people with hearing difficulties. Because of the differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Michelle Drumm: Dr Katharine Dill, lecturer at Queens University Belfast and founding executive director of PART (Practice and Research Together), spoke at Iriss's 6th annual AGM on the 27th of November 2013. Her presentation was entitled 'The Little Engine That Could', creating, building and sustaining a Canadian based knowledge exchange programme. In this programme, Dr Katharine Dill speaks about putting ideas into practice and gives an example of implementing system-wide change.

Katharine Dill: So moving ideas into practice, and again, you know, I don't know, I mean this is a complicated issue and I think you as an audience can help me figure this out, but especially now I am moving into an academic setting. How do you get academics to move ideas into practice, you know, how do we create research that is actually practitioner focused? There is a really cool conference that's coming up in New York in June, which is focused on practice based research and it's a whole groundswell of thinking around getting academics to move away from creating research initiatives that are based on their own idea that is disconnected from practice. And then also once they create the knowledge, how is it going to change practice because there really is no point in doing a study if it isn't actually going to change the work that we do and help to improve it, so it's really about putting those ideas into practice.

When we were putting this presentation together, Alison was asking me, can you give actually a case example of what you did in terms of system wide change. One of the things that I think we did extraordinarily well was, I had this person on my thesis committee at the University of Toronto, who loved randomised controlled trials, and he was a real evidence based guy, and in fact he and I would get into these large debates about what's better, evidence based practice or evidence informed practice, it was kind of a ridiculous debate, but we would get into these discussions and he was a bit of an Acer, he didn't really get this whole idea of moving research into practice, but I invited him to come to one of our conferences and he was like, 'this is really cool, this is a great idea. You are actually getting practitioners and academics to talk to each other.' And so he had this idea, and his name is Bob Flynn, he said 'Katharine, one of the really most critical issues for youth in care or any young person who is living in foster care, is educational disadvantage. These kids, wherever you go in the world, when they are in foster care, they don't achieve academically, many of them do not finish high school, secondary education, they don't move onto university and it's an absolute scandal for these children. And so we actually adopted the Looking After Children Tool, I don't know if it's here in Scotland, I know it is in England, the LAC tool, it is in Northern Ireland and it's really monitoring the outcomes for children in foster care, is what it is, Looking After Children. And so Canada have been using it, and there was 10 years of longitudinal data that's actually said that our kids were incredibly disadvantaged and he said, 'Katharine, if there was one thing that you could do with PART, it would be to inform practitioners about this travesty for kids.' And I am like, 'okay, let's do it'. So we decided to put together a conference and I have to tell you, I could not have done it without him and that's one of the things that when people asking me about starting a knowledge exchange programme in Northern Ireland, I have always said that you can never, ever leave the academics out of the equation, you cannot create knowledge without them, yes sometimes there are limitations, but he was a wonderful example of, I have got all this data and I know what the deficit is in terms of the knowledge. So what he said was, 'let's put together a conference,' and he had the connections with academics all over the world. So what he did was he said, he brought all these people together and we hosted a conference in May of 2011, which actually resulted in the implementation of a programme called “The Letterbox Club,” I don't know if it's here in Scotland, do people know what that is? It's a great programme. Rose Griffith, she is from Leicester University, she's a maths teacher turned into academic and her little 4 year old son couldn't read well and she got those little owl magazines in the mail, do you remember those little magazines you get as a kid, I remember my Mum used to order them for me because she always thought reading was the greatest, and we get this little magazines in the mail where kids could ... it was addressed to them and it was a little magazine, a little book in the mail and she thought, that's such a cool idea that my son, he just loves getting this stuff in the mail, why don't we do something like that for foster kids, why don't we actually mail foster children books with their name on the envelope, now imagine that, very simple idea, and this woman revolutionised that idea so that now in fact this programme is all across England, embedded in Northern Ireland and actually Karen Winter at Queens is actually doing an evaluation of it. We brought Rose over to this event and that transformed practice in Canada, in fact so much so that almost 1000 children are now in the same programme, a replication of this programme. So that was an example of knowledge actually changing practice and we actually beamed it across the country. So again the impact was that we implemented the Letterbox Club, so there were actually championship teams embedded after that conference within organisations to promote educational ... improved educational outcomes for children in care.

And then really very, very proudly I can say that after the event it also changed public policy because in fact after the event one of the things that the policy makers said, and it was part of a larger strategy, but certainly the event did help, was that there was full financial help offered to foster children to go finish, complete university, and so the whole leveraging of the knowledge was a good example of how it didn't just change the practitioners perspective, it also changed public policy.

If I could change the world again, if I could write a book, I actually would write a book about the role of leaders in promoting evidence informed practice, so I imagine all of you here today are leaders, you are all in your own way leading the charge around evidence informed practice, but we know that leaders come at different layers and I think that at the end of my ... you know Alison was saying, 'what would you do differently?' I think I would do a lot more work with the senior leaders. They were great at doing the budgets, running the AGM, and I am not saying this is true for all of you, but certainly in my group, but they never ever, ever read a particle, and I thought lead by example, you have got to lead by example. So we really do need to encourage, if we are going to create knowledge and we are going to change the way that people use innovation, we also have to get the leaders to promote the use of it.  And the other thing that I think is really an important piece in terms of a learning, is that leaders come at different levels of the organisation, so leaders can also be the brand new practitioner that just started last week, that's the person that can really open the door to new ideas and new innovation and yet the system is set up to only listen to the people at the top. Leadership is a huge critical factor in terms of knowledge exchange, moving ideas forward, again I think leadership and the focus ... the intersection with evidence informed practice is so important and we really do need to think about this. I think going back to the case example I gave around educational outcomes, we had an extraordinary groundswell of leaders who said 'that's a really important issue, we need to focus on improving educational outcomes for children in foster care.' But then what happens when there's another really important issue and leaders aren't engaged, how do we get them to stay in the conversation, how do we get them to think about how to shift policy, how to use knowledge, how to role model the use of evidence, how to promote innovation ... If we only have layers and layers of beaurocrats.

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