ICPR2017 -- The Fourth International Conference on Practice Research: overview
The participants in the inaugural conference in Salisbury formed a steering committee to provide long term continuity. As the conference grew with meetings in Helsinki in 2012 (Austin et al., 2014) and New York in 2014 (Epstein et al. 2015; Fisher, 2014), the initial vision developed to reflect the issues important in the host country and region.
The Hong Kong conference provided strong reasons to take this further. The conference organiser was very clear from the outset that bringing the conference to Hong Kong should provide an opportunity to reflect the development of social work in China and South-East Asia more broadly (Sim, 2016).
In particular, his success in recruiting sponsors from several countries raised the profile of practice and increased the number of practitioners attending. This gave rise to some reflection on whether the largely academic language of research was appropriate as a framework for the exchange of ideas, with practitioners arguing that a more everyday, more direct practice language would better suit a practice research conference. Changing the language might be one way of signalling the improving partnership between practice and research.
These discussions crystallised a growing discussion in the steering committee about how to ensure greater continuity between conferences, and greater participation in setting the agenda for the 2020 conference in Melbourne, Australia. The steering committee was discussing mechanisms (special interest groups, online exchanges) to improve dialogue, at the same time as new participants became interested in coordinating and leadership roles.
This spirit of improved dialogue was also evident a new framework for the final summary session. Instead of a member of the steering committee identifying key themes, we convened a group of participants and asked them to take the floor during the final plenary and give their thoughts on what should be addressed. This is of course imperfect, as we had no mechanisms to 'elect' people to this role and could only rely on steering group members to identify people who might be willing to join a workshop just before the plenary to define issues from their perspective. Whatever its democratic shortcomings, it is nevertheless a first step to hearing a greater range of voices.
The authors of this article formed a group to address the final plenary. We were fortunate to have the participation of Florence Ka-yu Wu who offered skilled translation to ensure that people could use in their first language. The following section is an account by members of this group of the issues they brought to the closing plenary.
In the summary session of the fourth ICPR, Mike Fisher coordinated a group of participants, including the practitioners and researchers, to discuss the recommendations for the next conference. In the third International Conference of Practice Research (ICPR), the theme "Building bridges not pipelines: Promoting two-way traffic between practice and research" has already stipulated the importance of engaging the true collaboration between the academic researchers and frontline practitioner (Sim, 2016). This has laid the foundation for the Fourth ICPR to focus on "recognizing diversity, developing collaborations, building networks" of social work practitioners, practitioner-researcher, researchers, and service users. This discussion group confirmed the rationale of the fourth ICPR to build network and echoes with the theme of the Conference emphasizing diversity and collaborations.
The plenary session offered an excellent opportunity for exchanging ideas among stakeholders of the practice research as well. The group recognized the diligent work of the conference organizers to (1) have invited renowned scholars in the field of Practice Research to gain knowledge from the speakers and these insightful exchanges have stimulated the practitioners to pursue practice research further; (2) have included international participants to have like-minded people joining for sharing knowledge and skills; (3) have initiated different modes of engagement, such as workshops, plenaries and poster presentations, to enrich the conference participants' understanding of practice research.
Apart from the positive aspects of the Conference, the discussion group also highlighted several challenges in conducting practice research as listed below.
(1) "Practicizing" the language
The change to a more direct practice language has undoubtedly improved the partnership between the researchers and practitioners. The meaning of "practice language" goes beyond the bridging between the academics and practitioners. With a broader international audience being engaged in the Conference, culturally and linguistically diverse needs should be attended to. Limited proficiency in English might have discouraged participants from sharing their ideas. Using their first language enables the participants to voice their views and opinions in discussions. All voices are ensured to be heard in different sessions if simultaneous interpretation and translation service is provided.
(2) Increasing practitioners' capacity to conduct practice research
Members of the group, mostly composed of practitioners, have exerted much effort in implementing daily programmatic arrangements and administration at their workplace. Less energy has been put forth in conducting practice research even if the practitioners are able and willing. More guidance on how to conduct empirical practice research is expected. Members were concerned about the access, accuracy, reliability and funding resources for data collection as well as the possibility of publishing their results. Support from academics and publishers will help forge the practitioners' engagement in research.
(3) Understanding the uniqueness of each driver of the research studies
Different stakeholders (people who use services; policy makers; government; funders; practitioners; academics) have different purposes in conducting practice research. The different and sometimes conflicting objectives of different stakeholders made it harder for researchers or practitioners to conduct research targeted at specific issue and providing concrete solutions. Members of the group are not asking for the consensus of research topics amongst the stakeholders. Instead, understanding the uniqueness of each stakeholder helps solicit outcomes that best cater for the needs of each party.
(4) Enhancing practitioners' coordinating and leadership roles
The open dialogue between the academic researchers and practitioners has fostered the true practice-research collaboration. Practitioners are encouraged to coordinate or lead some interest groups to focus on practice-oriented questions and research question formulation. The increasing involvement of practitioners in leading roles empowers practitioners' efficacy in continuing practice research in their workplace.
The Hong Kong Practice Research Conference started the process of improving the relationship between practice and research in the conference organization. We hope that Lynette Joubert and her colleagues planning the Melbourne Conference in 2020 will be able to build on these ideas.
Austin, M., Fisher, M., Uggerhøj, L., on behalf of the Second Practice Research International Conference Scientific Committee (2014). Helsinki statement on social work practice research. Nordic Social Work Research, 4(sup1), 7–13. doi.org
Epstein, I., Fisher, M., Julkunen, I., Uggerhoj, L., Austin, M. J., & Sim, T. (2015). The New York Statement on the Evolving Definition of Practice Research Designed for Continuing Dialogue: A Bulletin From the 3rd International Conference on Practice Research (2014). Research on Social Work Practice, 25(6), 711–714.doi.org
Fisher, M. (2014). The 3rd International Conference on Practice Research, New York, 9-11 June 2014: Overview. Social Dialogue, September, 40–41. globalfop.files.wordpress.com
Sim, T. (2016). International Practice Research Conference (ICPR) Moving East. Research on Social Work Practice, 26(6), 730-732.doi.org