On the Production Line?: Academics in Modernized Universities

On the Production Line?: Academics in Modernized Universities

Dorothy Smith (La Trobe University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6202-5.ch016
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Abstract

In this chapter, a modified Delphi study is used to compile and report on the reflective writing and scholarly writing of the authors of this book. Each author was invited to write a brief response to the question, What does it mean to be a knowledge producer in a modernized university? Their responses were collated and the collection of responses was sent to all authors, who were invited to write a more detailed scholarly response. While initial forms of Delphi studies were designed to arrive at consensus within an expert group, the purpose here is to identify and report on both the commonalities and the differences between academics engaged in a diverse variety of forms of knowledge production. What emerges through the writing is a nuanced account of key dilemmas and themes associated with being a research active academic in a modernized university.
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Delphi Approaches And This Study

Delphi studies were first developed in the immediate postwar period in the RAND Corporation to canvass the opinions of experts about likely future scenarios. The methodology developed at that time involved an iterative anonymous process in which the opinions of members of an expert group were obtained by formal questionnaire, and the members of the group were then given feedback about the opinions of their fellows before being invited to respond to a subsequent questionnaire. The process was repeated over several rounds, and culminated in a statistical group response being prepared. The method was designed to to allow communication between participants as a replacement for a focus group interview, “to minimize the biasing effects of dominant individuals, of irrelevant communications, and of group pressure towards conformity” (Dalkey, 1969, p. v).

This initial form has come to be known as the classic Delphi method; it has since been modified and used for a range of other purposes such as to encourage collaborative decision-making (Rauch, 1979). Other forms ask the participants to evaluate and predict trends or to create preferable futures. Given the variation of purposes and approaches, it is probably more correct to speak of Delphi approaches, rather than a Delphi technique (Powell, 2003). Broadly, Delphi approaches allow researchers to collect the judgments of experts on a particular topic in order to document and assess those judgments, capture the areas of collective knowledge held by professionals that often may not be verbalized and explored, and to generate new ideas about a topic. Franklin & Hart (2007) suggest that there are three types of Delphi study: the classical Delphi, which is intended to establish facts about a situation, the decision Delphi, which is used to encourage collaborative decision-making, and the policy Delphi, which is intended to generate ideas about a topic. Powell (2003) draws attention to the potential of this approach for harnessing the opinions of a diverse group of experts on practice related problems. A significant benefit of the Delphi approach is that the form encourages a considered response by giving participants time to think and to reflect.

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