Classified as: reflections, write-up.
Started 24 March 2017, updated 27 March 2017.
Last year I wrote a post following my trip to Wimmera PCP. I found that visit quite thought provoking and it has contributed to the way I'm approaching the thesis, particularly in bringing together a lot of ideas around historical and socio-ecological themes of relationship to the land, or country, and ecosystem.
I said at the time that I would try to do similar posts on my sessions in the inner south east (with participants from the former Inner Southeast Partnership in Community and Health, or ISEPICH) and with Southern Grampians and Glenelg PCP (SGGPCP), so will try to do that here as I am now writing up that stage of the research, and it will also help to clarify my thoughts.
Those two visits are much more distant in time now of course, and in different ways they were more challenging. By the time I made the Wimmera visit, which was the third and final visit, I was more organised and clearer about what I was doing, which of course in itself probably meant that the visit seemed more enjoyable and less challenging. However that doesn't mean the other visits were less valuable to the research, and in the discussion below and in following posts I will try to tease out what I learnt from both of them in a broad sense as well as the specific feedback that participants gave.
Continuing 27 March 2017 -
The workshop for ISEPICH participants took place at the Eco-centre in St Kilda. I'd put a lot of time and effort into organising this, including asking one of my colleagues at Monash to facilitate (for which I am very grateful), and I was quite anxious prior to the workshop. I'd offered lunch, so I rushed around getting that organised, unfortunately not quite meeting the eco standards of the centre in the process (bit shameful for someone doing a PhD on environmental sustainability)
(For reference if anyone is interested, the main problem was that one of the foods I'd bought was sushi and the packaging, including the little plastic bottles of soy sauce, are environmentally very bad news)
Also I was confused about what to do around honorariums for community members - I had said I'd provide them, although I had not been able to find a funding source for this, and therefore was donating the money myself ('re-purposed' from a grant I'd got from Monash for travel expenses, in theory). I wasn't quite sure how to give that to community members, as in the past we'd had an ISEPICH administrative system for doing this which made it seem much more 'legit' than my improvised system. In the event the community members didn't want the honorariums anyway so it was all anxiety about nothing).
There was someone running late and one person who had definitely said they were coming but (as it turned out) had forgotten about it, so I waited for them, which meant we started late, even though we only had an hour for the workshop.
I possibly also took a little longer with the presentation than I'd planned although I think starting late was the main problem.
Overall the lengthy duration of this whole project (the project began in 2009, the research with participants began in 2011, the feedback process was in 2016, and I'm finishing the write up in 2017) and the turnover of staff in health promotion positions meant that there were not likely to be many of the original participants attending, however the decline in the number community members was particularly disappointing. Two attended, two intended to could not because of ill-health on the day, and two sent apologies - so of the original twelve who started with the project, only two were able to attend and only six acknowledged the invitation (I have no way of knowing if they all received it, but I think most did). Again I suppose the duration of the project is the most significant issue, but the abstract nature of academic research in general and this project in particular probably has something to do with it.
People who are most affected by the 'big picture' global issues such as climate change or economic inequality, may be the least able to engage with them at the 'big picture' level, as participants in this project have said, in the examples below:
Bron* (community member at discussion group in November 2011): it can be hard to get people on low incomes interested in the big outside world, when their world is 60 degrees, because they have no air-conditioning, and never will, in their tiny little flats, that are sitting on the fourth floor – as in my case
Jen* (staff member in agency at discussion group in April 2013): I guess my initial reaction [to this research] was that most of the people we work with are struggling to survive, and when you don’t have enough food or somewhere to sleep, you’re not worrying about getting the right sort of light globes or – you know trying to save energy or worrying about sustainability
This is one of the challenges in this field, that being oppressed (or a member of a 'disadvantaged group'), in itself makes people less able to challenge the oppressive or unfair systems that affect them. This is one reason why health promotion work at the local level is so important - to engage people, you need to be able to engage around issues that are important to them on a day to day level. As was pointed out in this workshop, you also need to have 'room to fail' because this work is complex and difficult, and not everything is going to work - so you need to be able to make use of 'wins' and also learn from failures, in a way that the current system of funding and administering health promotion does not fully support.
Yet as I am pointing out in this thesis, health promotion needs to address big picture issues. It needs not only local action, but also advocacy and political action at state, national and global level. It seems likely that in moving away from the local towards the big picture, as I did in conducting this research, I may have lost the engagement of some of the community members who were originally involved. I haven't lost it altogether - I am still in contact with some of them, and I am confident that some others are still interested - but I don't have that day to day to contact that people working in health promotion and community development at local level do.
Anyway, in spite of all these provisos, the ISEPICH workshop did happen, four workers and two community members were able to attend, and we discussed the preliminary research findings. I was also able to catch up with three workers and one community members who hadn't been able to attend the workshop and their views have also been taken into account. I will summarise the findings in a separate post, as this is already very long.
For both SGGPCP and Wimmera, the feedback process was a bit different, as I decided with my key contacts there that giving a presentation at a scheduled health promotion network meeting was a better option than trying to organise a workshop around this research. The main challenge I encountered at the SGGPCP meeting was that it was a big network meeting with a lot on the agenda, and it was difficult to engage network members in discussion of my presentation or project, with the exception of the key contact there. This may in part reflect that it wasn't so much health promotion network members who had been involved with the research previously, but rather people who were in somewhat more senior positions in PCP member agencies. However it is interesting, and illustrates the always complex and challenging nature of work in this field, that it was in the PCP which has the longest and most ongoing work on environmental related issues (primarily climate change) where I got the least feedback from health promoters on this research, even though there may be factors that explain this.
I should also note that there had been a lot of turnover in health promotion positions, certainly in Wimmera PCP and I think also in SGGPCP, even since 2013 when I held discussion groups with them.
To be continued in another post or two ....
*All names of participants in this research project mentioned here or in any other publication on the research are pseudonyms.