Occasionally on this journey towards a doctorate there have been moments when I have suddenly understood something or a penny has dropped. They haven’t necessarily been big things, but nevertheless meaningful. Today I had one of those moments when reading a post on the PhD2Published blog. At the bottom of the post, there were five simple – and in some ways obvious – points about writing at this level, both for the thesis and for any other publication. It was the last one that caught my attention and imagination. Effectively it asked, what was the problem I was claiming to solve.
For months I have been struggling with the whole notion of what is it that I am doing that I can claim to be adding to knowledge. I have heard the metaphors of a grain of sand and seen the images of a tiny pimple on the sphere of knowledge, but I have found it difficult to identify, let alone articulate what I am doing. I have been so conscious of so much of my work just saying what is already known, I have not been able to see what I am doing, even though it is implicit in my methodology and in so much of what I have done over the past three and a half years.
This morning it dawned on me. It doesn’t actually matter that others have explored some of the problems of the special needs system – they have tended to work from specific perspectives. It doesn’t matter that there is a fair bit of work written on inter-agency working and partnership. In fact, it’s great that work is out there, together with studies of the experiences of parents of children with special needs and the various analyses of policy in this area. They are all parts of the jigsaw which helps to explain why the special needs system is dysfunctional.
What I am doing, in taking a systems perspective, is trying to look at the whole picture. Sure, some pieces will still be missing, but rather than looking at the jigsaw pieces in isolation, I am trying to look at how they connect. Rather than trying to solve a problem, I am trying to offer a perspective on the multi-causality of the problem. Essentially, I am taking a problem area, which has been dissected and carefully examined in bits, and looking at it holistically and recognising the multi-dimensional nature of the problem and the interconnectivity of the parts.
So, instead of being concerned about the fact that I don’t seem to be saying anything new, I can now recognise I am saying something different and fresh simply because I am looking at the whole system rather than one little bit of it. Recognising that is making me think both about what I have already written and what I am currently writing. I have a sense of knowing what I am trying to do now!
Remind me how positive I am this morning next time you catch me about to throw my rattle out of my pram in despair that I’ll never get to the endpoint of this journey!