Action Research: Outcomes and Measures Executive Summary and Recommendations
What follows is the executive summary and the recommendations which I make from my initial analysis of the bureaucratic burden which exists in the support-need juncture. You can read the prologue ‘Action Research: The Situation I am In; The View From The Other Side’ by clicking HERE. It gives an account of how this action research project came about and explains some of the motivations driving the project.
Interestingly and ironically I learned about action research and participatory action research through researching and studying the bureaucracies which were being used to administrate my getting help from the third sector. Namely the Outcomes Star paperwork, but this was one of many ad hoc bureaucracies which the person (I am not a client, consumer or case by the way) has to negotiate through the various labyrinths of modern day civil service and third sector.
To me I was drowning in all the latest new speak and code which permeates the industrial-care complex which is simultaneously trying to improve itself whilst being throttled by ever more layers of paperwork in the name of scientific management. If you say the wrong word in the wrong form it can put you back to square one – the system does not recognise you; if you dont do the outcomes paperwork nobody will work with you as they will not get funded to give you the time to support you.
When you are coming from a disadvantaged position (i.e. homeless, mental health, criminal justice, refugee, drug and alcohol addiction; or multiple needs of these categories) the painful truth is that official society does not recognise you in the same way it recognises say someone with a bank account, a driving license, a mortgage, a degree, a credit record, etc. Often the systems simply do not have a category for your circumstances so either you don’t get put on the system or you get filed down an inappropriate avenue.
Each time the system fails both you and the person trying to work the administrative tools they have been given to try and help a recounting of your story has to be made; endless iterations of the same account drives you bonkers in various ways. You start hating hearing the account as you have to render it more; feelings become inflamed and raw as you relive the narratives through the semiotic triggering it does; eventually parts of you become numb – insensitive to what you are rendering because you have to take your mind off it as you do this for another person in a superstructure which has little contiguity of experience from one operator to the next.
Often the administrative superstructures are operated by short term contractors moved in from agency job suppliers who are subsisting themselves on a meagre wage and without relevant training. The worst scenarios are where the person who you need to recognise you as a human in need hates their job and perceives you as hassle, or even worse, scum who does not deserve help or support. Tacitly you can see the disdain on their face and disgust in the way they engage with you. This most commonly happens in pressure cooker departments where the staff are being ridden to hit targets on pain of soft Machiavellian disincentives.
The best scenario is where someone is helping you who has not had the stuffing knocked out of them and they understand from experience how the system is not functioning; they often do what they can and advise as best as they know, but often in demoralised tones. For example, in the Advice Shop, which was closed down in Edinburgh, I was seeking help to try and negotiate the crackers and notorious Bedroom Tax – as it was dubbed – and other benefits changes. The worker there told me it was “like people being marched to the gas chambers”; he was an old hand and distraught with what he had to implement – he was clearly expressing grief.
The pressures seemed to be coming down on us (both me and those trying to support me gaining a foothold and re-establish my life) through the exertion of pressure from and through private companies such as Atos (€12.69 billion in revenue during 2017), Capita (£4,167.9 million in revenue in 2017) and Maximus (US$1.70 billion in revenue in 2014) – the bagmen for unworkable and inhumane policies.
It is sometime hard to communicate the difficulties that you face to people who have no frame of reference for poverty or lack of agency or outright prejudice. There is a cognitive dissonance which occurs in people, a psychological state where an individual’s cognitions (beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours) are simultaneously at odds with each other. When life is good for people and is going well for said individual, it is hard to imagine that the world which structures their affluence and success is also responsible for the poverty and disadvantage of their neighbours. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge there is trouble in paradise…
The word ‘conspire’ comes from the Latin ‘conspirare’ which literally means “to agree, unite, plot,” literally “to breathe together”. The word conspiracy has attained varying amounts of baggage which has resulted in it being used by many in a pejorative way to belittle ideas put forward to express an unfair differential of power. If we take a look at the word it is a verb used to articulate the making of secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act; and of events or circumstances which seem to be working together to bring about a particular negative result.
Synonyms include plot, scheme, plan, intrigue, collude, connive, collaborate, consort, machinate, manoeuvre, work hand in glove…
Obvious examples of conspiracies – if we are thinking of the dictionary use of the word – include women not being treated as equal and valuable, ethnic minorities being diminished in a culture, or sexuality other than the heterosexual positioning being pathologised. These prejudices are commonly known and thankfully marked by overwhelming bodies of evidence – sexism, racism, homophobia. These are peoples in human society that at various points have and are conspired against.
The systems that society has set up hold ingrained in them all the egalities and all the prejudices that human beings manifest. It is easy to acknowledge the positives without the negatives – this is comfortable; it is also more easy to acknowledge all the negatives conceding no positives, if one is in a critical mode. The truth is that a health society is constructed out of relationships where both the positive and negative can be examined and dealt with.
So whilst we love the irreplaceable and sacred National Health Service which looks after millions of people’s health and wellbeing day in and day out, we need also to be able to acknowledge when there are incidents that the institution fails or harms someone; whilst we value and care about a policing service which comes to our aid when we have been wronged or harmed by someone, we need also to be able to identify when power has been abused by those in uniform; whilst we respect and hold high the law courts as embodying shared customs working towards fairness for all, we need to be able to acknowledge when the legal system fails to represent those who do not have the money to pay.
This preamble is to tie into the second part of this article – the executive summary and recommendations I made in my action research project – the concept of structural violence which is critical in understanding the bureaucratic realities which people in disadvantaged positions have to negotiate.
Johan Galtung is a Norwegian sociologist, mathematician, who is the principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies. He developed the term ‘Structural Violence’ as distinguishing a “type of violence where there is an actor that commits the violence as personal or direct, and to violence where there is no such actor as structural or indirect”; a marked characteristic is that the harm imposed is an avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs. You can download his paper below:
Structural violence is a considerable problem for those in disadvantaged positions. It is a means of violence codified into a social structure or institution that inflicts harms on people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Examples of structural violence include institutionalized adultism, ageism, classism, elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, speciesism, racism, and sexism.
I have encountered various forms of structural violence as implemented through the bureaucracies which are laid out as imperative for me to access various human needs. This action research project represents an analysis of the structural violence which I have encountered with the hope of finding resolve in an intelligent and amicable way. Johan Galtung is one thinker whom I am drawing upon…
Executive Summary and Recommendations
As an Action Research project, this document is the first step in examining the form and function of bureaucracies in the support/need juncture. It is subtitled ‘a dyslexic trying to survive in a land of bureaucrats’ because that is a fitting description of how this research was initiated. Being faced with great numbers of varying repeating bureaucracies, many of them esoteric or onerous in their unrelenting presence, my life became untenable and this had damaging effect; particularly in the life circumstances of persistent poverty and context of attempts to rehabilitate from personal problems.
On becoming overwhelmed by paperworks and my appeals to share my paperworks not fitting with the culture at hand, I was lucky enough to be engaged with the enlightened and humane support of the Edinburgh Cyrenians. Specifically, Evelyn Forbes, Oscar Del Rio, Kerrie Walker and Karen Quinn listened to me and engaged me with some of the most progressive support which I have received.
Being listened to was novel, and powerful. I explained about the crushing nature of the paperworks, and I was asked to write my experiences down. I started to understand that it was not just me who found these bureaucracies a burden, but they took up a considerable amount of time, energy away from the support work which they were engaged in.
I was introduced to the Outcomes Star, and undertook studying it when I requested help in rationalising the world in which I live. This strategy for growth came through my work in building a community I needed through the Ragged University project, and discovering learning as a route for approaching personal problems. Victor Frankl’s  ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ and understanding of the philosophy of Kintsugi  – mending the broken with gold – helped me approach what I was to find in the make up of the Outcomes Star bureaucracies.
Specifically, Action Research, Participatory Action Research and Existential Phenomenology all spoke to me as methodologies that could not only assist me by providing a scaffolding for support, but also impliment change in the superstructures which provide systemic constraints for myself – for those who are supporting me – and for others in similar positions. This document is the first part of a series defined by the cycle of Action Research detailed by Rory O’Brien, a key thinker cited by Joy MacKeith; one of the primary authors of the Outcomes Star .
The Five Steps defined by O’Brien  in the iterative cycle are:
- ….Specifying Learning (Identifying general findings),
- Diagnosing (Identifying or defining a problem),
- Action Planning (Considering alternative courses of action),
- Taking Action (Selecting a course of action),
- Evaluating (Studying the consequences of an action)…
- (so returning to) Specifying Learning…
The Recommendations and the General Findings of the document:
Intrinsic: Aspects Relating to the Individuals in the Care Setting
1. That the Outcomes Star bureaucracy includes an appended body of narrative research created and owned by the client as an authentic and nuanced expression of situation that contexualizes the metric component of Outcomes Star (page 109).
2. That the Outcomes Star process take the form of Participatory Action Research which includes in its analyses bureaucracies, failure demand, transparency and poverty narratives (page 41).
3. The narrative component takes whatever form necessary to be a suitable interface to express the clients overlooked views and stories; i.e. audio, visual, written, creative, etc (page 35).
4. The bodies of work are optionally presented/held in a transparent and accessible public place as an archive of ‘alumni’ where the process and outcome is owned as research and creative artifact that feeds forward into training vignettes, and across services for the client lowering their sunk information costs (page 83).
5. The support worker includes in the narrative how much time has been absorbed by the bureaucratic process, an estimation of how this time has facilitated the care/growth/support outcomes, and an estimation of what is deficient/needed in terms of time/money/support (page 19).
Extrinsic: Aspects Relating to the Superstructures Affecting the Care Setting
6. The Care Commission as an ombudsman becomes approachable and accountable by and to the client/support worker without sanction through a chain of command, thus manifesting Weber’s necessary appeal to a higher authority within functioning bureaucratic structures (page 92).
7. That the bureaucracies used as proprietary instruments are not attached to a rent by virtue of their necessity and public value. Fair Use in Intellectual Property law should be invoked and the monies which would go to paying rent redirected back into the support/care juncture. (Page 120)
8. A judicial review of outcomes bureaucracies, tendering processes and displaced funding streams take place with a particular view to identifying any deadweight costs, inflated managerial wages and negative externalities (page 87).
9. An identification and excising of corporate involvement in public goods particularly focusing on where tax has been unpaid/avoided, where care/quality penalities have been imposed, and where profit trumps human need (page 17).