Summary: Making the Contextual into the Global
We have been interested in finding knowledge production processes that aim beyond provisional knowledge and which provide more robustness from a wider perspective. The issue is more than one of producing comparative international knowledge on different phenomenon for policies or for new practices; it is also an issue of being able to challenge practices and establish context-sensitive knowledge production processes for producing socially robust knowledge. The knowledge interest in research on social work practice lies in the practices themselves and their development. The emphasis is on interaction and dialogues and a balanced discussion between parties in order to enable change. Research in a community may bring about change in professional practice, but the crucial element is that the local knowledge is multi-voiced. A dialogist approach is important because the practice is by its nature multi-voiced and presupposes the inclusion of the perspectives of different actors.
The projects raise questions of how to promote cross-organizational collaboration in developing work practices. It signals a need for intervention methods that allows practitioners to apply a given new method and to analyze collectively the need for change as well as to develop and implement a new concept in order to meet current challenges (Virkkunen and Ahonen 2004). Amajor question is how to support the learning network so that it can evolve from being a group of independently acting individuals into a collective effort at decisive transformation and implementation with an aspect of shared transformative agency.
Behind this drive lie the epistemological and methodological questions of robust knowledge and knowledge production that would also help the local-global dissemination of good new practices in a robust way. From a global perspective our examples provide a model for knowledge production and knowledge creation in internationally critical issues. We claim that to change practices on an international level we need robust knowledge on the local level. This knowledge can provide a genuine critical perspective and also make it possible for different actors to recognize these international currents in their local practices.
Local–global dynamics are the context for the local as well. However, that is a recursive process with basically a shared interest: how can we in the changing contexts, be they local or global, know how to develop our practices in a context sensitive way based on contextually robust knowledge. With our examples of two current research projects we have tried to look at this problem of making the perspectives more robust. We both use methodological and epistemological ideas for robustness and context sensitivity.
The Nordic project discusses globally important issues and even globally adapted knowledge policies on treating unemployment and the implied risk in young people's lives. This project on youth welfare indicates the importance of building a multilevel frame for studying internationally global issues. The interest lies in developing locally context-sensitive research methods and approaches that would show the differences and create robustness in the Nordic knowledge
production processes. When the comparative approach is not abandoned but rather enriched by the dialogic processes of knowledge production, more sensitivity to contexts is allowed, which in turn overcomes the dissociation between the subjects of welfare and the expectations of objectivity for the prevailing evidence-based ideas of policy-making.
Our efforts also concern an interest to gain new insight into the nature and emerging practices of how youth unemployment is framed and organized on an institutional and practical level in the different countries. There was also an interest to connect the knowledge we gained from this study to improve practices as well as to create trialogical modes for learning in practices. The research team consisted of researchers, teachers in social work and practitioners as well as users. The project on family disputes describes the transformative methodology built into the process of changing and developing local practices. It discusses tackling an internationally known phenomenon with tested intervention models from a national and local context concentrating on changing existing practices and developing the activity concept, the family mediation actually as an emerging new practice to be collaboratively studied and learned. It concerns also the discussions of knowledge dissemination and knowledge-based practices by raising the question of the given new in the emergence processes and the issue of really gaining the
robustness needed for tackling the problems in the local contexts.
Both projects are keen on developing a practice research paradigm for the international social work research debate. They aim to build up knowledge in partnerships between the frontline social work practices, the service system, and the academic interests of the social work discipline, while also keeping the most important of the interest groups in focus – the users.