Being a civic practitioner; the civic literacy component of professional practice Phil Harington , University of Auckland, New Zealand Practical Learning Conference Edinburgh 2008
Evidence of a growing debate about the capacity for social services & professional practice to achieve civic or transformative goals. • ‘New’ professional identities; - vocational, recognition of multiple stakeholders, capacity for critique, ethical knowledge, empirically robust, policy and advocacy roles, values peer review/supervision, willing to take ‘positions’ seek alliances. • Expectations by ‘outsiders’ that professions are agents, not ‘docile’ or self absorbed. Citizens expect proactive responses to claims for service; funders and service managers construct goals about outcomes, optimal delivery, effective practice. • The development of technologies that support information sharing, alternate locations for organisation and power, different forms of identity formation. How do professions respond?
An example, The promise of social development: … branded by sociology as ‘third way politics’, has become a policy orientation centered on local innovations, self-reliant communities, building capacity, fostering cultural and social traditions, affirming ‘local’ identity and encouraging diversity.’ The notion of capacity building suggests • The skills locked in professions can be liberated into diverse sites, forms, practitioners. • Knowledge shared will invigorate civic identity and agency • The transfer of knowledge into sites of development is a skill. It may render a different professionalism – the semi professional. • Services will deliver ‘capacity development’ through localized forms of organization, contract. • Work occurs under managerial, political & performance scrutiny • The generation of a shared interest in evaluation, reflection, learning, & ‘professional development’.
Such activity occurs frequently • in contexts defined by economic hardship, ethnicity, age, gender, family form, exposure violence, housing and education risk, location etc. • Where conventional wisdom has proven to be ineffective, social dynamics are intractable and ‘real’ shifts in power or respective identities have been negligible. • Orthodox practice is expensive, resistant and resisted, bureaucratic and contested. Diverse agendas exist for service and civic innovation • Theory of prevention, and self-determination find favour over primary and secondary intervention and generic responses. • Political management has maintained a contract and surveillances role, enabling local infrastructural development
Such work comes at a time when professions are • Finding their way back, if gingerly, from the ‘de-professionalisation’ experience of neo-liberalism • Finding space for consumer participation in complaints procedures, lay input, advocacy roles, alliance building on moral grounds • Eschewing the ‘heroic’ stature for an approachable face • Seeking a broader demographic membership • Refining disciplinary tenants so that knowledge is made accessible, shared, ethically/empirically produced, peer reviewed, • Cultivating defences against hollowed out or captured practice, and • Seeking a public profile; takes a role in public debate and garners legitimacy.
The argument for civic literacy Delaying an attempt at definition for the time being, civic literacy seeks to draw attention to; • The centrality of communication skills in the performance of practice • The idea that there are multiple literacies in a professional setting – many narratives, silo audiences, contested interfaces • The role of practice as a site of critical opportunity – at this site knowledge has its most immediate implication for application. Knowledge at that point needs to be current, accurate, adaptable and heard. • At which point the powers of observation by a trained mind should beat their most acute. The empiricism of the moment is the best learning for future practice. • Citizens rely on practitioners at the point where their civic opportunities are otherwise at risk. A practitioner ‘sees’ the event repeatedly, the citizen experiences the need periodically. • We should expect practitioners to have the literacy skills, in their communication, their analysis, positions of power, and reciprocity to render transformative outcomes.
Elsewhere I have caste these as … • The capacity for straight talking in the sites of civic debate • Locating decision making where it resides/belongs • Conversant with the ‘narratives’ of locations and sites • Observing and telling the stories of power • Recognising the silent, masked or topical or fad-like. • Drawing the options into the light – theorising & strategy • Literacy in the disciplinary ‘promise’ – what it can do, what works/failed, comparative learning, what's in the literature • Aptitude with ‘others’ - different audiences/publics • Celebrating – markers of the contribution and pace • Building a shared knowledge.
My current research interest; To explore the constructs of practitioners working in work with high civic aspirations To identify any notions of emergent practitioner or professional identity To spot any validation of a semi-profession notion adopted as a way to negotiate, negate or reduce any layering of power relations in practice To consider curriculum requirements for civic literacy and practice with civic aspirations.