Nature of Evidence – After the day

Nearly two months after the Nature of Evidence seminar, the buzz of the day has passed and I periodically return to the sound-file. Such richness and diversity of material!

Thirteen people assembled for the day. Each had prepared a brief presentation, and these were delivered in groups throughout the day, separated by open discussion.

I am listening to the sound-file in order to extract themes, but what I am reflecting on right now is the way that people are affected by each other’s positions. There is a quality of respect and attention that contrasts so starkly with what I see so often on Twitter.

Of course this was a group of people who were likely to be respectful of one another’s opinions and sensitivities, but what I particularly notice today is what is said by someone AFTER they have listened to and taken on board other opinions. There is often a softness or slight circumspection that marks these utterances. For example, “This may not apply so much in some of the areas you are working in, but I think that…

So this day was informative through process as well as content. People took care of one another, which is heartening. But I find myself wondering if the validation that opinion can receive from agreement may be less that that which it receives from its ability to demonstrate that it emerges from a process of reflection. For agreement, the message is often simplified, rather as the outcome measures of a quantitative study are simplified. The devil remains hidden in the detail, and the detail has been effaced by the process. Perhaps we are agreeing over that-which-can-be-agreed-upon instead of that-which-needs-to-be-debated.

In this discussion about evidence, there is a difference between the statement “this is about power” and the statement “context is important” (both of which, incidentally, I agree with). It is not that one is convergent and the other divergent, but more that they invite differing qualities of convergence-divergence.

It calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s lyric “There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t“. If those two groups can work together, then we are really getting somewhere!

When presented with “evidence”, I inspect it for evidence of some reflective process that has been able to listen to contradictory positions and that continues to take them seriously.

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The Nature of Evidence

Chapter 3 of Being With and Saying Goodbye sets out my view of how an impoverished notion of “evidence” erodes mental healthcare in particular, but consider the following:

1) Daniel Barenboim says, of playing music, that it results in “a wonderful combination of more knowledge and nothing materially there to show for it”.

2) Grayson Perry says, in the introduction to his televised series of culturally embedded artworks, “I am going to find the truth…”

And imagine my excitement when a friend pointed me towards a book called The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development

I now envisage a seminar attended by people from healthcare, therapy, qualitative and quantitative research, ethics, philosophy, music and the arts, as well as International Development (which, after all, is not so very far removed from Child Development).


PS: The Seminar was hosted by the Collaborating Centre for Values-Based Practice. and took place in November 2016: Nature of Evidence – After the day

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