In his last blog, Geoff gave us an insight into our current Change Project on team-based learning and assessing parental capacity to change. This time he takes a closer look at the learning technology being used in the project.
Some of the key challenges of running a Research in Practice Change Project stem from the management of the project group. Our group of almost twenty individuals is made up of colleagues from as far apart as Cornwall and Hull. We are meeting six times during the first stage of the project in Sheffield, London and Stockport and in between each meeting we all have tasks to complete to advance the project.
Before the project began, it was clear to me that the roles of the people involved meant they were busy, might find travelling to meetings difficult, and will continue to experience the pressures that affect all colleagues in the children’s sector.
To that end, I wanted to establish a way of managing communication and facilitating collaboration that didn’t involve long email threads with many recipients and megabytes of attachments – to ensure that this project made engagement as easy as possible so we can work much more closely together.
Use of wikis
A wiki is a website which allows people to add, modify or delete content in collaboration with others. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Wikipedia. Wikis are now common across many organisations – one seems to spring up around any community from video game fans, music enthusiasts, film buffs, and now even social work research dissemination organisations.
Common Craft has produced a great four-minute video explaining wikis in simple terms.
They can be a powerful tool and I decided to build a wiki to serve as an online centre point for the project.
Supporting the beginning of the project
We have been able to use the wiki as a central resource for basic information such as:
- dates and locations of meetings
- names and contact details of the group members.
In the early stages of the project I was able to upload and store some background reading on team-based learning and assessing capacity to change to allow us all to get familiar with key areas of the project before we first met.
Growing with the project
The wiki has really come into its own as the project has progressed and we’ve been able to use it to aid our collaboration between meetings. We wanted to undertake research into interventions such as Parents Under Pressure, Signs of Safety and Safecare. We created five key questions for the interventions:
- Is it family based?
- What is the time frame?
- What are the domains and outcomes?
- What is the target group?
- What is the evidence base?
Group members used the wiki to allocate themselves to research one or more interventions and then posted their findings directly to the wiki. This was a resounding success.
In the period between just two meetings the group had produced 7000 words on 18 interventions, written solely by the project group and stored centrally online. We’re now doing the same thing for standardised tools and measures such as Timeline Followback, Maternal Attachment Scale and Graded Care Profile.
Dividing work effectively
Using the wiki for this work helped us to divide up the work effectively. As people added their names next to each intervention in the list we could see which interventions still needed to be covered. We could also see the results coming through in real time as group members added their findings directly to the site. There was a real sense that we were all contributing to the learning generated by the project. The impetus and connection to the project that this creates is second to none – I know I personally was checking the wiki with excitement.
We have also been using the wiki during the meetings. The course we are developing for the project will have a case study that we will base our work on. At the last meeting a number of group members worked on developing this case study and were able to input it directly onto the site as they were working. This made their work available to the whole group immediately without someone having to distribute it around the group.
What did we use?
I used PB Works to create the wiki and recommend using this or similar tools for projects that involve long distance collaboration. It’s helped us to communicate with each other and share research as well as to collaborate on specific pieces of work for the project.
I have found using a wiki to be liberating – it frees people up to provide feedback, to participate and drive work forward. It can create a sense of team spirit and in a very organic way can grow to something much greater. The fact that we can use this wiki for our Change Project is incredibly exciting – and I am sure my colleagues on the project group feel the same.
If you have any questions or comments please let me know. I know wikis have worked really well for this project of a relatively small group. Do they work for you? Have you found any barriers you needed to overcome? Do you think you would try using wikis now? GO