Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Bridging The Gap

“What you have said in your presentation opens up a huge field of potential.  It’s really exciting.”

Dr Mary Anderson, BALID Executive Member, about TF’s presentation on RaPAL 26.11.2015


Sway Presentation

Tara delivered an inspiring presentation on RaPAL today at the BALID fourth and final seminar in the BAICE-funded project ‘Bridging the gap – Enhancing the dialogue between NGOs, Practitioners and Researchers’ (organised by the UEA Literacy and Development Group in collaboration with the UK Literacy Working Group), and held at the offices of the Mothers Union in London.  The visuals look very professional using Sway (a Microsoft presentation program) and she talked through this including:  showing a world map and mentioning the many hits we get worldwide; some of the international involvement we have had; the various types of conference; how RaPAL gradually supports people into the organisation and also into writing for the journal; the upcoming publication of Stories of Resilience and encouraging people to do their own enquiries. She emphasised the various social networking communication we do as well as the many advantages of the electronic journal.   The response was vibrant! A session followed on spontaneously working on some of the characteristics which Tara had invoked – affirmation that we are moving in the right direction, nudging us into action, interactive approaches and ‘stepwise’ direction.

The main thrust of the event was about how NGO’s and researchers in the international literacies field need information quickly and in an easily accessible form. Although there was no exact definition about how RaPAL might help with this, there was a sense that delegates saw RaPAL as an agency that adds depth and opportunities for interconnections to literacies information.  In closing remarks Katy Newell-Jones of BALID, who has played a main part in planning the seminars, said that BALID would like to become more involved with RaPAL.

Sarah Freeman, RaPAL Reviews Editor

The final session of four of the BAICE-funded Bridging The Gap project was held in London yesterday, organised by BALID. The overall project has been led by the University of East Anglia’s Literacy and Development Group supported by the UK Literacy Working Group and included events in Oxford, Norwich and a week’s E-Forum, over the course of the autumn. These sessions aimed to investigate issues of literacy, particularly women’s literacy, in the work of literacy practitioners and NGOs internationally and the role the research community has to play in this.

Significant areas of challenge related to accessing and sharing “research” to substantiate proposals and effective working practices; and for this research to be easily, and dare we suggest freely, accessible in plain English to the extent possible. This related as much to broad academia as the practices of the NGOs themselves. It consequently resulted in suggestions of creating guidance for NGOs in respect of constructing data collection and related ethical research norms such that they would be “formal analysis ready” from the get go. Guidance on managing effective implementation and associated underpinning negotiations was discussed; as well as potential difficulties with peer review and dissemination. There was clear demand for communities of practice across which support could be established. Attention was drawn to the degree of resourcing that would be necessary to work with journal access and HEIs generally, and its absence from funding sources. Attention to adult, gender and literacy issues are not usually a funding priority. To influence funder policy this collaborative activity and evidence base development would need to take place.

There was substantial discussion regarding the role of diverse detailed narratives in, for example, team meetings, community consultations and internal documentation that lead to operational issues resolving, identification of future interventions and work streams, and motivating participants. This ad hoc data collection of a qualitative nature was compared to the planned data collection tightly aligned to funding priorities and outcomes of a running project which receive most overt attention, and would usually be heavily quantitative. In turn these overlapped with fleshing out self-publicity around demonstrating track records, achievements and analytical awareness. This led to discussion of the various audiences communications might be directed towards; and the criticality of context.

Overall, it was agreed that while for any given individual accessing reports, technology and even the English language might be challenging; across teams implementing projects the potential for quite a high level of access to English, to research, to technology was likely to be found and to contribute to creating communities of practice which disseminated, interpreted and applied gleaned knowledge to local contexts. This suggests the reverse can be implemented with appropriate support structures.

Overall, there appeared to be a demand for participants to develop fora to share their stories and how the detail of their biggest challenges converted with work and perhaps a little luck into their mentionable successes. Below are write-ups of the discussions and outcomes from the sessions, supported by the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) and led by the UEA Literacy and Development Group in collaboration with the UK Literacy Working Group and the British Association for Literacy in Development (BALID).

Bridging the Gap Final Report
Bridging the Gap London Event 26th November 2015 Full Report
Bridging the Gap e-Forum November 2015 Full Report
Bridging the Gap Stimulus Paper UEA Event 23 October 2015
Bridging the Gap UEA Event 23 October 2015 Full Report
Bridging the Gap UKFIET Event Sept 2015 Full Report

More information on UEA’s work is available here and BAICE’s here.


  1. Yes – and key themes that emerged for future discussion included:
    ‘Literacy’ – in much of the discussion it seemed that ‘literacy’ was actually a sub heading of the larger field of ‘communicative practices’, which include digital connections, spoken as well as written language, multiple ‘Englishes’ rather than a single Standard, etc. ,…
    Gender- the theme of the workshop was ‘Women’s Literacy’ but in fact the main discussions involved ‘gender’ issues, not just women and in fact the ways in which men and women interrelate in their uses of reading and writing
    Education; similarly, there was less of a Gap more of a Continuum between schooled/ academic literacy and that outside; what some people described as ‘academic’ approaches actually involved less need for anxiety about meeting ‘academic’ goals, more recognition of the complex continuum in reading and writing across a variety of contexts, of which formal education was only part. Many of the participants had, in fact, done some work in HE, such as MAs or PhDs, even if they tended to place themselves more at the ‘practitioner’ end.
    Key words in the discussion included; ‘context’; ‘dialogue’; ‘scaffolding’; ‘variation” ‘step wise’; ‘accesibility’; ‘partner organisations’; etc.


  2. Katy Newell-Jones

    One aspect of the last of the Bridging the Gap events was how participants positioned themselves on a researcher………practitioner continuum. Many of us have occupied different places at different times in our involvement in development. As the day progressed several who initially described themselves as practitioners described enquiry / research they have undertaken (although they might be reluctant to describe it as such). The notion of bridging the gap between two distinct, separate groups (of researchers and practitioners) became less stark and the differences more fluid.

  3. Thank you, Brian and Katy. There seems to be plenty of scope for future activity and interventions; and for a greater range of participants to identify with being ‘researchers’.

    RaPAL is keen to support practitioners and organisations generally, whatever their background, formation or location, to engage with and in research around these themes in their local contexts; and to create and draw on communities of practice which aid their endeavours. The teaching and learning of adult literacies is a hugely diverse and complex area, but ultimately is about individuals engaging in learning to get on with bettering their lives in their families, local communities and economies.

    Towards the end of our Resources page https://rapal.org.uk/resources/teaching-and-learning/ we direct practitioners to sample free, high quality online MOOC courses which can support with data analysis: there are a great range of these available from the sources provided. We will look at updating this with current provision. In our members area we also direct to resources which support practitioner led action research; and encourage members to draw on and interact with each other. This is another area we will look at doing further work on. We are always grateful for quality suggestions and directions!

    As Brian mentions, there is a huge overlap between languages and literacies and the great variety of general communicative practices, the forms they take and the purposes to which they are put. Careful curriculum design and iterative evolution of teaching and learning practices and resources is critical to ensuring that all stakeholders’ interests are responded to. This can only occur with effective applied ‘research’.

  4. Janine Eldred

    Whilst I was unable to join the final event in this four-phase BAICE supported initiative, I’ve tried to follow the inputs and conversations as best I could, on line. It’s clear that there are some huge issues to be addressed in making sure that our research informs practice as well as how our experiences of development and practice in the field informs research. As Katy indicates the divide is not so much a gap but perhaps a series of ‘holes’ with some areas working effectively and others far less so. The outcomes of this initiative have presented some possible solutions but also a huge agenda for the future. Once our report is ready we need to ask questions about how we might use the momentum, energy and weight of knowledge, discussion and debate of RaPAL, UEA LDG, BALID and LWG, working together for future action. Thank you to all involved.

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