When arresting is not enough: interprofessional practice and koinagogy

New action research from the midlands looks set to shake up a new generation of inter-professional practice like never before. For many years it’s often been said that policing can’t arrest its way out of deeply rooted social situations. Multi-agency problem solving has been advocated for a long time and was enshrined through legislation via the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), particularly under Section 17.

Yet whilst policing, and many other professions, are advised to work together in partnership, where’s the evidence base for how to do that? In the middle of all of that noise of performance, many professionals may have even lost touch with why they are doing what they doing. That’s not meant to be patronising or insulting – it’s about calling out the sheer volume,  complexity and pressure of various professional settings that can drown out the fundamentals. Many professionals from different agencies often come together with others to look at cases and problems – but how many times are folks just sent along and tasked informally with not taking any more work on, or passing the buck? Sitting in the same room for an hour doesn’t make a team!

Serious case reviews have reported, in an exasperated fashion, for decades about the lack of agencies working together on common goals, often with tragic consequences. Recent cuts to services haven’t helped either as many have retreated to what they perceive as their core legal functions. The evidence base for change is certainly compelling.

In this new research, Dr Tony Kearon and Professors Maggie Atkinson and John Coxhead of Keele University, are taking a different approach: to understand from the ground up why professionals from different settings often don’t work together.  This research team come from a professional as well as academic background, being able to draw upon experience working for councils, social services and the police.

One of the root causes of dysfunctional interprofessional practice is that professionals are educated and trained in trenches; they are specialists in a particular thing in a particular organisation, who do particular things in particular ways. It’s a bit parallel to the travel infrastructure crisis of the UK currently – lots of routes up and down but not many that efficiently interconnect sideways!

Koinagogy (2019) is a neologism, a new word, to encapsulate a concept, taken from the Greek word Koinonia, meaning ‘joint participation’. This new holistic concept builds upon previous valuable contributions from Kolb (1910), Knowles (1984), Agyris and Schon (1996), Ford (1997), Hase and Kenyon (2000), Edmonson (2011), Vaughan (2016), Coyle (2018) and O’Connell (2019) by utilising concepts such as double loop learning, but in an interprofessional practice setting. Culturally, koinagogy asks why if professionals are due to work together why they aren’t trained and educated together? It asks if a common goal is what is needed why are many different and apparently siloed and competitive performance measures in the way?

People coming together in a matrix ‘fix-it’ fashion when they have their own competitive pressures upon them means we get… well what we have been getting for decades. Single profession accountability, finger pointing and blame, piles of documentation to satisfy some hidden auditor, and often defensiveness when things go wrong.

Koinagogy is all about authentically empowering people working together to pursue a common goal, focussed on outcomes; to surrender individual professional myopia and work as a team. This means collectivity of learning and creativity – and enabling such transformational change through a collective and joint interprofessional practice route. Koinagogy draws upon the why of interprofessional practice, to tap into the fundamental rather than the illusory technical. The benefit is to enable outcome focussed teamwork, similar to the eventual ethos in Twelve Angry Men (1957), by using explicit practice conversation to proactively focus on what matters.

If you are a professional practitioner working in safeguarding and related fields and want to get involved in this exciting action research to reflect and improve on your professional practice contact the team at:- j.coxhead@keele.ac.uk.

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