Knowledge and Practices
The first condition for the effective merging of knowledge and practices is the actual presence throughout the process of people living in poverty. They should be collectively involved and recognized as holders of knowledge related to their life experiences. Under no circumstances should other actors take the place of those people living in poverty or speak on their behalf, even if they have some knowledge of or intimate involvement with the world of poverty.
The conditions for autonomy of knowledge
- The working groups should be composed in such a way that people living in poverty are not dependent on or close to professional actors. This is to preserve everyone’s freedom of thought and speech.
- Every actor should have their own reference group or group of peers (actors living in poverty, members of NGOs or associations, professionals, academics...). It is within such groups that each participant can find the security, freedom, and time to work on their own thoughts before taking part in the merging of knowledge and practices. On the other hand, understanding and taking in the knowledge of others requires maturation and clarification. The time and space within peer groups allows participants to make certain questions their own, form their own inquiries, and develop their own analysis.
- A form of contract should set the rules, security, and confidentiality covering the words and writings produced. (In particular, what people living in poverty express is most often the result of a long experience of suffering and struggle, and they themselves can still feel very fragile. This fragility must be protected. This also fully applies to all that is said by the academics and professionals, whose work elsewhere often requires them to respect rules of professional confidentiality.)
An ethical framework should be established that includes a number of values related to dialogue between people: active listening, respect for what others have to say, others’ speech, a willingness to be critical about one’s own knowledge and ideas, and a conviction that all knowledge is always under construction.
With regard to those people living in poverty
The role of the discussion facilitators is to help the people living in poverty to express themselves in their own words without trying to take their place or put words in their mouths. This means creating the conditions which will allow them to build on their own knowledge: taking a step back to review their experience, looking at their experience in the light of that of others to generate broader lessons, and to supporting them as they try to understand the other participants. It also means accompanying those living in poverty both before and after each training session so that they do not lose contact with their own life and social environment.
With regard to the academics and professionals
Academics and professionals also have difficulty expressing exactly what they want to say in words and in writing. Accustomed and trained to work and communicate with their peers, they tend to use words or phrases that appear abstract and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. The role of the discussion facilitators is to help them make their thoughts more accessible to others and to accompany them in their efforts to understand what those living in poverty contribute to the discussion. The role of the discussion facilitators is also to help the academics and professionals understand the validity of the rhythm and the time necessary for the Merging of Knowledge and Practices© and the need to not by-pass certain stages.
The Merging of Knowledge and Practices© approach was used in the context of the ÉQUIsanTÉ research project, the report of which was published in February 2015. The project brought together academic researchers, health professionals, and community stakeholders in the fight against exclusion. It aimed to establish a dialogue between people living in poverty and primary care teams in order to improve the quality and equity of care for people living in poverty.
THE OBJECTIVES OF RESEARCH:
- Identify the barriers between people living in poverty and healthcare teams in Quebec.
- Identify the means and actions needed to promote implementation of professional practices focused on social competencies in a primary care clinical setting.
- Identify factors promoting the involvement of people living in poverty in the process of developing social competency.
At the international level, ATD Fourth World has conducted an international research project on the hidden dimensions of poverty.
Challenges and ethical issues
The merging of knowledge, like participation, is not an end in itself. The ultimate goal is the eradication of poverty, and each instance of merging of knowledge has an objective that contributes to this goal, which must be made explicit to all the actors involved in the process. The prerequisites are:
Be aware that change is necessary: Extreme poverty is not an inevitable fact of life. Being dissatisfied with the social, economic and cultural realities of today’s world leads to the desire and the will to change things.
- See each and every person as possessing knowledge: People living in situations of poverty and social exclusion should not be defined solely by what they lack or what they need since they too have knowledge to contribute. The experiential knowledge they possess, when crossed with other types of knowledge, can reveal their ability to distance themselves from their own situation and reflect on it. Such merging produces knowledge that is more complete and more faithful to reality.
- Nobody should be left on their own: It is the sense of belonging to a social or professional group which reinforces and consolidates the knowledge that each of us possesses. People living in poverty should not be left isolated; they need to be able to relate to other people living in similar conditions and to have space to reflect, express themselves, and discuss.
- See each and every person as part of the research team: Each and every participant must feel that they are a co-researcher, co-trainer and co-actor with a role in identifying and formulating the questions, in coming to common understandings, and working out solutions together. Each and every participant has something to offer to every aspect of the research.