Research undertaken and/or directed by practitioners, rather than academics, and principally focussed on practical rather than purely intellectual goals.
Academic-led research quite often reflects and prioritises academic debates and the priorities of funders, which do not always coincide with the practical aims of Transition groups or any other factors that might motivate practitioners to take part as researchers. Even in fields that are engaged with practice, the prolonged timescales of academic dissemination and funding cycles means knowledge tends to lag behind the cutting edge. While theory and practice are not viewed here separate spheres of activity (the best research works between and combines the two), it is the case that there are great benefit to practitioner-led research. This can take a number of different forms.
It is inherent in most Transition research that the collection of new data requires the active involvement of Transition practitioners. However, activists will have little motivation to put scarce time and energy into research concerned only with intellectual debates. Allowing research to be shaped by practical aims is one way to overcome this, and may in fact enhance, rather than detract from, the academic quality.
When Transition groups want to undertake their own research, this may be in a number of ways. Existing activists within the may wish to do it themselves, in the process becoming a Transition Researcher. If the group would prefer to bring in new research expertise, they may identify suitable collaborators within academic-practitioner networks or via a research marketplace. Students at local universities may be available to conduct a Transition dissertation on the topic. When Lou Senior approached Transition Durham about her interest in writing a masters dissertation on Transition, they invited her to join the group and attend meetings in order to collaborate on identifying a topic that could address both their needs and hers. The resulting dissertation on Inclusion and Diversity in Transition was based on Participatory action research on a key topic. It involved new outreach activities in which most of the core group took part, which were equally valuable as a practical project and a data collection exercise. In other cases, Collaborative Design may be sufficient, or a Practitioner steering group may advise researchers on how to direct the research effort in order to fulfil practical aims.
Allowing research to be directed by practical aims can create significant intellectual challenges. In some cases, the issue raised may not be sufficiently novel or interesting to merit original research, although particularly for student projects, local duplication of a topic or approach tried elsewhere can be appropriate. Consulting a Knowledge base can help identify whether there is a need for the research, and indicate what might be done. Some ideas may simply not be amenable to investigation with the necessary scientific rigour and better approached in ways other than as a research topic, or need adjustment as a part of ongoing learning. clear expectations on all sides are important in such cases, which are valuable opportunities for active learning.
Where and to the extent appropriate, allow practical concerns to shape research via whatever mechanisms best suit the particular conditions of research, and support practitioner-researchers in particular. Be aware that this requires openness and a commitment to honest communication, ongoing learning and willingness to compromise on all parts, and that not all of the practical aims of Transition can readily translate into questions that researchers might reasonably be expected to address.
Valuing diverse contributions
Participatory Action Research