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Chapter 17 Research and Evaluation (Supplement)

Efforts among Researchers and Practitioners to Improve Collaboration

(Much of the following material is excerpted from Fostering Collaborations to Prevent Violence Against Women: Integrating Findings from Practitioner and Researcher Focus Groups by D. Kilpatrick, P. Resick, and L. Williams in a report of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, May 2001.)

Traditionally there is tension in collaborations between practitioners and researchers in almost any discipline, and such has been the case among those who work to prevent violence against women. Practitioners—as a first priority—try to do the best job possible with the means at hand while researchers continually analyze process and results, attempting to find ways to make changes for the better. This trial and error approach is essential to discovery and great leaps forward but, in the case of victim advocates and service practitioners, is sometimes intimidating and frustrating. Vulnerability of victims and their safety concerns, inadequate funding to support collaborations, and dysfunctional communication between participants has led to unsatisfactory results.

In an attempt to improve the possibilities of collaboration in research into the prevention of violence against women (VAW), the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (NVAWPRC) conducted fourteen focus groups of practitioners (victim advocates and service practitioners) in nine states to discuss how they could work together more effectively. NVAWPRC also conducted four focus groups comprised of researchers who conduct studies that target trauma and violence in partner and sexual abuse. In a recent NVAWPRC report, Kilpatrick, Resick, and Williams (May 2001) describe the key findings of these encounters in terms of shared vision, positive and negative collaborative experiences, concerns, barriers, and key elements in successful collaborations.

Each of the groups described what they found most and least beneficial about VAW research collaborations. In addition to their common goal of reducing VAW, participants in the focus groups generally agreed that research has the potential for improving basic knowledge about violence prevention and intervention, policy design, implementation, and services. Practitioners found it useful when researchers provided:

  • Models for prevention.

  • Concise information to help in program planning.

  • Research that validates "anecdotal evidence" gained through practice that carries weight with policymakers, funders, and decision makers.

Practitioners were specifically interested in research that identifies and meets the needs of underserved populations, particularly victims who are culturally diverse or who live in remote and rural areas. They would also find it useful if VAW research could help them build upon ways to:

  • Develop tools to enhance funding opportunities.

  • Improve victim outreach and community education efforts.

  • Determine what is best for client services.

  • Identify new problems, directions, and solutions in efforts to eliminate violence against women.

  • Improve school programs designed to educate children about domestic violence and sexual assault.

  • Evaluate clients and programs.

  • Support prevention initiatives.

Practitioners agreed that the most compelling issues for VAW researchers to address are:

  • The cycle of violence.

  • The effects on children of witnessing violence.

  • Violence across the life cycle.

  • The interrelationship between violence, substance abuse, and societal norms, values, and beliefs.

Furthermore, practitioners stressed that when considering outcomes, researchers need to include more input from victims about their needs and their satisfaction with the criminal justice system. They recommended that VAW researchers give attention to the barriers in the system that limit access to services by victims of color. They requested that researchers try to identify and assess why certain criminal justice practitioners resist VAW training.

In their analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of VAW collaborations, researchers noted that practitioners make a variety of intellectual, methodological, and practical contributions to the research process by—

  • Expanding theory by explaining results that theory may not be equipped to deal with.

  • Offering insights into how to incorporate safety and diversity issues into research methodologies.

Researchers also stated that they value the practitioners' real world experience, up-to-date information about current victim issues, and practical feedback in terms of timing to conduct research among vulnerable victims.

Focus group participants generally agreed that when research is a team effort, and they are kept informed and up-to-date on research findings, the experience can be positive. They stated that it is important for the team to develop clear, mutually established goals that give paramount importance to victim safety. Practitioners who reported negative experiences when working with researchers complained of a remoteness on the part of the researchers. They also stated that:

  • Researchers can be insensitive.

  • Researchers pay insufficient attention to victim safety issues, victim concerns, and the effects of research on the participants, i.e., victims of violence.

  • Collaboration can be nonexistent.

  • Practitioners' ideas and opinions are neither solicited nor respected.

  • There is lack of feedback regarding the results of the project.

  • Research results are not provided in a timely manner.

  • Research findings are sometimes detrimental to victim-service agencies.

Focus group participants also expressed a unanimous dislike for the ongoing data collection required by funding agencies because it is time consuming, takes away from direct services, and does not appear to provide useful information for making policy decisions.

Researchers reported that collaborations with victim service practitioners sensitize them to important issues, problems, and pitfalls in their research plans, and help greatly with safety issues. However, they often find a "lack of open-mindedness" on the part of practitioners, who are more likely to embrace findings that support what they already know and to resist findings that might reflect negatively on their services or organizations. Researchers and practitioners also often disagree on how funding should be spent. Practitioners favor research that is related to direct services or has a treatment component over basic research that is not explicitly therapeutic.

Victim service practitioners consistently identified eight general barriers to their effective collaboration in VAW research:

  • Lack of resources and insufficient time available to devote to the project.

  • Lack of diversity in research topics and participants.

  • Difficulty in identifying victims who are willing to participate.

  • Lack of trust between collaborators in the two communities.

  • Negative experiences with individual researchers.

  • Poor collaboration within the research community that causes duplication of projects.

  • Limited practitioner involvement in the research process at the point of conceptualization.

  • Inconsistent measurement tools among researchers that result in suspect statistics.

Researchers also cited several barriers to effective collaboration with practitioners in VAW research:

  • Attitudinal differences toward research and data between researchers and practitioners that may create mistrust and negativity.

  • Lack of funding to compensate practitioners.

  • Heavy workloads in that limit practitioners' availability for research projects.

  • Unrealistically high expectations of practitioners.

  • Difficulty explaining to practitioners how the research will be useful to them.

There are fundamental differences between people working as researchers and people working as practitioners in terms of training and experience. Differences in attitudes and approaches should be acknowledged so that they do not generate misunderstandings that destroy trust. Mutual respect, mutual trust, and open communication are key elements for a successful collaboration.

Focus group participants discussed several ways in which researchers could show more respect for practitioners. Researchers can:

  • Approach practitioners as partners, valuing their experience.

  • Understand that practitioners have many responsibilities in their work environment and that participation in a project is an added responsibility.

  • Compensate practitioners and victims for their involvement in the research effort.

  • Collaborate with practitioners to develop research approaches that best serve research, victims, and the agency.

  • Involve practitioners in the design of the study, the interpretation of the results, and the presentation and dissemination of the findings.

  • Communicate findings in a format that is useful to practitioners.

  • Be receptive to practitioner feedback about the research process.

Mutual trust can only be achieved via positive interactions over time. To foster mutual trust researchers and practitioners can:

  • Establish a shared vision and goals, with specific research-to-practice goals clearly stated.

  • Address victim issues of retraumatization and safety.

  • Ensure that victims, practitioners, agencies, and communities benefit from the research process, and that all groups live up to their commitments to provide such benefits.

  • Find ways to anticipate and respond to negative findings.

  • Share in the preparation of reports.

  • Create products that will be useful in applied settings.

  • Share credit for the research products.

Open communication is needed to develop mutual respect and trust. Focus group participants suggested that long-term partnerships be set up between agencies and researchers/research centers, that regular meetings for information sharing or collaborative learning be held, and that they work together on grant writing and collaborative planning efforts.

Additional funds to promote researcher/practitioner collaborations are needed. To address this issue, participants agreed that it would be helpful if funding agencies:

  • Provided small grants to fund collaborative planning meetings and/or support ongoing dialogue between particular researchers and practitioners.

  • Funded collaboration, not just research projects.

  • Provided funds for researcher/practitioner cross-training efforts.

  • Gave priority to research projects that include paid practitioner involvement at every stage of the research process.

  • Gave priority to research projects that include dissemination efforts that are specifically tailored to meet practitioner needs.

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Chapter 17 Research and Evaluation June 2002
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