Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Final reflections, thinking on screen ...

12 September 2017 - second post

I'm leaving the photo off this time because this is really just thinking aloud, or thinking on screen. I will put the photo back on and get round to discussing its significance eventually. However continuing with the discussion from earlier - one of my key areas of reflection is about why I left ISEPICH and how that changed the project.

As I said, the proximate cause was a manager who I thought was managing things wrongly and treating me badly. I feel that it is quite harsh saying that publicly (even though of course I won't name the manager) so I should say that no doubt she had, and has, many good qualities, it's just that in the areas I knew about, I thought she did not really understand what the work was meant to be about, and was not willing to listen to her staff. It's similar to complaints about managers that were made in the project and that are quite widely made in normal life. I don't know the statistics, but my observation is that many people leave their work because of their managers.

As I said in the previous post, however, that's just the proximate cause, and the underlying causes are organisational hierarchies, where managers can use their power in ways their staff don't agree with, and that health promotion and community development are not well understood or valued in general. So that really just illustrates some of the same themes that are already discussed in the thesis. In this case, however, my leaving also led to significant changes in the project. I of course did not intend that to happen, and I didn't realise that the Executive Committee would take the opportunity to stop supporting the research, and in effect stop supporting the whole ISEPICH project of developing an integrated approach to promoting equity and environmental sustainability. I'm not sure that's what the Executive thought they were doing in fact, and I'm not sure that the manager in question understood the difference between the research project and the broader ISEPICH project, but that is what happened. Staff were told they could not work on the project any more and that it was finished.

What happened of course is that the research went on, and people within ISEPICH member agencies went on doing the same kind of work, but ISEPICH wasn't formally supporting it as a project. I don't even think it was necessarily a bad outcome overall, I think there were good and bad aspects to the way the project changed, but I am aware that my focus changed, and that is one of the things I want to reflect on. Before that though, I do sometimes reflect on whether I should have just knuckled under for the sake of the project. Should I have known that the project would fall down when I left? Well I'd probably have more awareness of that now because one of the themes from the research is that 'champions' are important in this kind of work, and what happened in ISEPICH is that four 'champions' of this work all left in a short time (for various reasons). So maybe I would have handled the situation differently if I'd known that. But the other side of it is, did the manager's (or anyone else's) resentments against me play any part what happened? Having just had a major online fight with somebody (not the first time that's happened) I should know that my penchant for 'speaking truth to power' does lead people to get very angry sometimes. But that is a legitimately hard question. I think often people in this kind of work try to get along with people and create change  from within, and maybe sometimes that works, but sometimes I think it results in not much changing. I won't resolve this I guess.

It's a dilemma that harks back to the Ottawa Charter 'enable, advocate, mediate' - when do we advocate, and how? when do we mediate? It also relates to the question of skills and competencies in health promotion, researched for example by Nerida Joss and colleuges, skills and competencies for participatory action research, and the helpful and challenging factors around engagement identified by participants in this research. I personally don't think I am very strong on those skills of engagement, or people skills, as they are often called, and I think that has been a limitation in this research. Should participatory researchers receive training in these skills? I think we tend to think of them as 'natural' abilities, but potentially we could receive training and support, in the way public health researchers are trained in epidemiology and statistics. Similar ideas have been raised by Joss  in relation to health promoters.

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