The importance of recognising the relationship between research and language
Jeff Brattan-Wilson, our Citizen Directed Cooperatives Cymru Officer has written an excellent blog which is now published on the Good Practice Exchange website.
In February this year, I attended the launch of ‘The Wales School for Social Care Research’ at the Temple of Peace.
Peter Beresford OBE (Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University London and Professor of Citizen Participation, University of Essex) gave a really thought provoking presentation on the impact of research.
Peter was talking about how many significant pieces of research, written over many years, mainly written for specialist journals, usually sit in libraries, on shelves, often presenting as completely inaccessible to people who may not come from a research background.
His talk made me really think about all the research that has taken place in Wales, a large proportion of which could result in profound changes or make a huge difference in Wales, particularly in relation to minority communities.
A question came to me: how do we measure the impact of such research? Is it through the type of journal it is published in? How it successfully progresses one’s career? Or is it about how the findings are actually used in the community and whether they have any significant impact on people’s quality of life?
I asked Peter, “What can we do together to ensure that research is written in everyday language, so that many sectors in Wales can access it and use it as a benchmark to consult with the community?”
The answer was that really we all need to work together; universities, scholars and academics need to understand that they are creating barriers between themselves and those in the wider community by using complex, jargon-heavy language.
Language, we can argue, should be a pathway to promote meaningful conversation – not to be used to promote one’s own language superiority.
Afterwards, at my table, there was a discussion regarding service provision for older people in Wales. It struck me again that while there may well have been multiple strands of research taking place, and multiple solutions found, I fear that it may have all been lost due to the writing style, published only in specialist journals that few people will have heard of.
It’s easy to evidence that people from many different sectors would like to consult with the various communities that exist in society, e.g. various spoken language minority groups or even the British Sign Language community. (British Sign Language is the 3rd indigenous language in Wales, after English and Welsh). In order to consult with the community, it is important to use everyday language.
Now imagine – what if all that research had been written in everyday language? We would have a wealth of ideas, answers, solutions and creative thinking, all readily available at our fingertips.
From the work that Disability Wales has done, it’s clear that the best way to get around this is to co-produce with others. If an academic wants to research the views of a particular group, or the Government wants to consult on matters relating to a specific community, surely the best way to do this is in co-production with that very same group? That way those meaningful conversations can be had, in the everyday language used by those people. Common sense, no?
On writing this blog, I realise that perhaps by being open to how we use everyday language, we are likely to attract a much more diverse range of people who might consider undertaking research themselves, with the range of topics as a result becoming as equally diverse.
Hopefully, funders can take note and request that findings from research should be published in everyday language and in mainstream journals so that all sectors (and all people) can have equal access to it.
One other thing I felt was an important thing to take away from Peter’s presentation: he told us that his mother would read his work. She would tell Peter if she understood it, or not. If she could understand it, then it was suitable for most people; if she couldn’t, then Peter knew he was doing something wrong. I thought this to be a humbling and honest thing to share with the audience. I made a mental note to try to do something similar.
Reminds me of a quote that readily became one of my favourites:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Nelson Mandela – Former President of South Africa