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Developmental Work Research: A Search for Congruence

Jane Melvin


This paper will explore the potential of Developmental Work Research (DWR) as a method of enhancing collaborative creativity or problem-solving within youth and community work teams. Underpinned by cultural historical activity theory (CHAT), DWR has frequently been used as a method of examining work practices, identifying change, and imagining new ways of working (expansive learning) within the health, education and social care-based professions. 

DWR is characterised as intervention-based research where a collaborative examination of the contradictions and disturbances within a CHAT activity system leads to transformations in practice at both team and individual levels. Such contradictions and disturbances are deep-seated structural tensions, often maintained by the cultural historicity of the system, and which manifest as visible problems or conflicts. It is the solution-focused examination of these that is the main work of the DWR process, and which provides a workshop-based, interactive environment where participants can work together through a facilitated ‘past, present and future’ timeline which acknowledges their contextual cultural historical traditions.

The DWR method supported recent doctoral research where it was used to examine how youth workers have responded to technological changes within the last 40 years, the incorporation of new technologies into current practice, and what this might mean for future practice. This experience will be used to reflect on the use of DWR as a qualitative research method compatible with youth and community work ethics and values and congruent with the training and group work contexts with which youth and community workers are familiar. 

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