On the Friday of the BERA 2008 conference I attended a really useful symposium convened by Zoe Fowler and chaired by Andrew Pollard entitled: " Capacity Building evaluations, obstacles and initiatives: reflections from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales".
With my role in the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) and my new responsibility of chairing the training and capacity building strategy group I was keen to hear how the TLRP conceptualised capacity building in research methods and learn what underpinned their strategy.
There were three key speakers, Zoe Fowler from TLRP; Susan Davies and Jane Salisbury from the Welsh Education Research Network (WERN); Adela Baird and Steve Baron from the Applied Educational Research Scheme (AERS)in Scotland.
Zoe stated that there was 10 years worth of evidence in capacity building in educational research and admitted that understanding "capacity" is problematic. Her key arguments in relation to strategy were:
You need a range of structures aimed at the diversity of the workforce; structures that promote networking; communtity building; identity formation; confidence building and access to a range of resources.
You need on the job and off the job training opportunities that validate practice and build identity, competence and confidence
There is a need for adequate time to engage with resources and this time needs to be strategised.
We also need to strategise for constructive relationships between researchers and key people or "catalysts" who can help researchers make links to relevant networks etc.
This strategy, which emphasises the socio-cultural or community building nature of capacity building; where learning about research methods is viewed as a social practice, was reflected in other talks where strategies included giving bursaries for people to work together (WERN) or were underpinned by a knowledge based approach as opposed to a competency based approach (AERS).
Questions from the audience focused on whether the projects highlighted were focused on building capacity in the traditional or standard areas (e.g qualitative as opposed to quantitative) thus perpetuating skills defecits and were also ingnoring building capacity in new or innovative research areas. A question that is highly relevant to NCRM and one which will focus my mind as I chair the first NCRM training and capacity building strategy group later on this year!