This thesis addresses two possibly interdependent and intractable problems in Wales. Since 1983, successive policies have promised people with learning disabilities ordinary lives. While much has changed, most people with learning disabilities are still waiting and fighting for an ordinary life. Throughout this period, Welsh Government policy has been to involve citizens. Although a few people get involved, there is widespread public non-involvement. The thesis explores possible reasons for both problems. It then focuses on one potentially strategic lever, namely changing the approach to public consultation to an approach congruent with a complex adaptive systems approach to social care.
This research builds on the work of Barod Community Interest Company, the company partner in this KESS doctoral research, who brought their understanding of the problem of social care policies not delivering and the inadequacy of public involvement, together with the start of a possible response – coffee shop conversations’.
The research promotes epistemic justice (Fricker, 2007; Byskov, 2021) by valuing the different knowledges people have, the different ways in which people make sense of the social world, and the different ways in which they use their knowledge. As part of this commitment, the thesis adapts a parallel page format commonly used in Wales for bilingual documents to provide an ‘alongsider thesis’: one document combining both Everyday and Academic texts.
The research approach is transdisciplinary (Laasch et al., 2020), collaborative (Chang et al., 2013) and design-orientated (Design Council, 2007), an approach chosen as appropriate for addressing a real-life challenge that intersects the worlds of policy-making, academia and lived experience. The research draws together literatures on policy-making and complexity (Cairney, 2012; Lowe et al., 2020), mental models (Jones et al., 2011), social interaction as a performance (Goffman, 1990a (1956)) and intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) to conceptualise how and why people make sense of the social world.
The first part of the research investigates how social care policy is made, including public (non)involvement in its making, and examines the claim that policy is not working. This comprises a transdisciplinary knowledge review followed by qualitative policy-making research. The second part of the research uses collaborative research to transform Barod’s ‘coffee shop conversations’ into CSC21, a consultation method with potential to increase the quantity, diversity and quality of public involvement. This comprises collaborative autoethnographic work followed by collaborative field testing with Barod.
CSC21 is novel in using an intersectional purposive sampling grid to select participants, having no researcher involvement in the self-facilitated conversations, and relying for data on notes made by the participants themselves during their conversation. All three features are informed by the theoretical work on how people make sense of the social world. Each conversation is a social occasion involving only people who know each other, with freedom to talk on the pre-agreed topic as they wish while being paid for their time. In field testing, the method proved popular with people who would never usually have taken part in a public consultation. The field tests gave clients access to strategic insights that they reported they could not otherwise have accessed.
This thesis makes contributions to the research and practice of public involvement. Additional methodological contributions include strengthening the argument for transdisciplinary social research, pushing the methodological boundaries of qualitative data analysis and the use of collaborative autoethnography, and problematising accepted research practices that arguably reproduce systemic epistemic injustice. A possibly unique contribution in this regard is the production of the ‘alongsider’ thesis.