Early life experiences help community regeneration professionals develop the commitment and resilience to balance complex ethical and emotional work challenges, according to a recent study published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
'Negotiating Ethical Dilemmas in Contested Communities' explores how professionals negotiate the conflicting interests and attitudes of local residents and institutional actors such as management and local politicians, whilst dealing with problems raised by greater 'managerialism' - the short-term targets, competition for funding and bureaucratic burdens the researchers associate with the government's 'modernisation agenda'.
The study - carried out by Professor Paul Hoggett and Dr Chris Miller from the University of West England and Professor Marj Mayo of Goldsmiths College -foregrounds the importance of community development activities in regeneration areas to government efforts to make citizens central to public service planning and delivery, and to deal with poverty and social exclusion.
Findings confirmed the challenging nature of such work in multiply disadvantaged communities, but found that workers' extraordinary levels of commitment and resilience - often deeply rooted in early life experiences and identifications - informed a strong sense of personal authority and a capacity for emotional and ethical complexity.
Professor Hoggett explained: "The fact that many of the sample group were themselves 'survivors' meant that they were able to cope with levels of conflict, tension and distress that others might find daunting."
Researchers were also struck by the mixture of compassion and anger that underlay the respondents' belief in democracy, community and social justice. These values were consistent and strong in the group, and contributed to significant overlap between people's 'personal' and 'professional' selves.
The study found that the aims of public service reform - with its stress on quick, tangible and measurable outputs - were not always in step with what respondents saw as the challenges of long-term development work. Most community regeneration professionals reacted to this dilemma with forms of 'strategic compliance' - for example, supporting longer-term priorities with funds from short-term initiatives. Researchers found complex relations between workers and authority, with Professor Hoggett commenting: "They are both 'in' and 'against' authority, and need a strong sense of personal authority."
Overall, the study found that managerialism brought greater detachment from the job for professionals and, whilst this had certain benefits, potential negative effects included the blocking out of social suffering in the public consciousness. Researchers considered it possible that workers whose political socialisation occurred in the 1970s expressed more concern about the impact of the government's 'modernisation agenda' on their work than more recent entrants to the profession.
The study also discovered there is a lack of support for workers, including significant gaps in opportunities for continuing professional development or non-managerial supervision. The study argues that policy makers and managers often fail to grasp the distinction between capacities and skills, and that this has important implications for the training and development of such workers. As a consequence of the study, however, 'practitioner forums' are now being established in Bristol and London, involving respondents and other local development workers.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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