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Transformative Methodology as an Intervention Design

To study and transform the mediation services, we adopted a methodology of change and transformative research that drew on the ideas of developmental work research (Engeström 1987), the change laboratory model (Engeström et al. 1996; Virkkunen and Ahonen 2007) based on the ideas of cultural-historical activity theory and expansive learning (Engeström 1987; Engeström, Lompscher and Rückriem 2005). Our aim was to study the possibilities of developing the family mediation concept and to allow it to become a primary means for resolving family conflicts. A central aspect of these methods is to contextualize the transformation work and the production of new and more adept practice models and activityconcepts in the everyday practices of the people, professionals and services in question.

This model, adapted to real-life practices, ensures that the voices of the divorced persons and families themselves are not forgotten. The change laboratories, which are organized at the local level and which gather the professionals responsible for producing the mediation services and divorce counselling, provide a dialogic forum led by the researchers of the project. This method aims, using short but frequent dialogic sessions of about three hours each over a period of a few months to a year, to create a dialogic process for reconstructing the activity concepts of the working practices in question. The dialogues are based on analyses of the research data (interviews, documents and theoretical literature) conducted and presented by the researchers in order to understand and discuss the experiential and contextual factors behind the problems and contradictions of the practices.

Even though the project had launched the idea of a more adept model of mediation (Parkinson 2011) as a given new model, the developmental object, the reconstructed model of family mediation, has been jointly designed through the change laboratory model and its dialogic processes. In fact, as Virkkunen and Ahonen (2007) argue, there is a process of creating something new that does not exist yet but which is used at the same time. A Finnish metaphor for this state is that it is like rowing a boat that still is under construction. There is a process of a reconstruction and deconstruction of practices, along with the metaphors and concepts to describe them. This process involves the participants' subjective experiences in the dialogues. In this way, the project is also an example of practice research (Julkunen 2011).

Change and Runaway Objects in Developing Family Mediation Practices

As a method to be adapted and transformed into a contextually adept practice, family mediation could be conceptualized as a change object in the work with changing family and parenting structures that are burdening local social service structures and social work with children and families. In this project, the need for dialogic and contextual epistemologies that capture the change objects discussed
by Ritva Engeström (2014) has become visible. The mediation concept, as it is understood within the Fasper project, is actually an emergent new practice. Reconstructing this concept is a process of starting from the established ways of thinking and practicing and shifting to a new and unclear, emergent activity concept in complex contexts of existing practices and changing needs of families. This kind of conceptual deconstruction and reconstruction leads to dialogic processes of knowledge formation that are able to account for the participants' subjective and experiential knowledge and efforts in filling the gap between the perspectives on tension, the past, the prevailing present and the future (Emirbayer and Mische 1998) held each of the participants. It becomes a project of anchoring and objectification that leads to an inquiry for new knowledge of the emergent new activity concept (Engeström 2014).

For this kind of contextual and social knowledge generation and change process, a developmental intervention like the Fasper project is needed. The context for knowledge formation is the everyday practices of a diverse network of professionals involved in various phases and settings of the work with families in disputes and divorce crises and family mediation practices. The robustness of the knowledge is considered in the joint efforts in creating the new activity concepts for family mediation services. The process also establishes a learning network (Kerosuo, Toiviainen and Syrjälä 2011) that could be called trialogical (Paavola, Engeström and Hakkarainen 2012) in its efforts to innovate the new activity concepts, which are also changing the work-bound identities (Ahonen 2010) of the participants with multi-professional backgrounds and various working contexts.

This approach comes close to the discussions around dissemination of existing models, best practices and research/evidence-based models. In dissemination processes, the problems of adapting new activity concepts are recognized as fundamental problems (Walter et al. 2004) when the given methods are introduced. The difference in this project is that here the idea of dissemination was seen as a process of producing contextually robust knowledge for recapturing the family mediation as an object for change. The project, which introduced a new model of family mediation based on adaptations in the UK (Parkinson 2011), had as its starting point that the Finnish context will be very different with its own traditions and service systems. Even though the need for change and transformation of an adept mediation approach was widely accepted, the expectation of the local participants was that a new and better method for them to apply would be introduced. In the first phase of project inquiries, it was thus a surprise to find how complex, unclear and different the local family mediation services were. A common experience was that family and divorce crises were like runaway objects for all the authorities, a situation that created a call for the reconstruction of the change object. The project then became one to transform the practice contexts and collaborative multi-professional structures into a learning network for really taking on the challenge of acquiring robust knowledge of what the problems concern and how to tackle them (Haavisto, Bergman-Pyykkönen and Mattila-Aalto 2011).


 
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