Research in Practice: When a Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Works
An effective researcher-practitioner relationship can produce many benefits, but perhaps the most marked result from the Kentucky civil protective order study was the immediate use of the research findings to improve criminal justice system responses to stalking cases.
Researcher T.K. Logan conducted interviews with 213 women who received protective orders. Among other questions, Logan asked what obstacles participants had experienced. Nearly a quarter of the reported barriers to getting protective orders were "clerks/gatekeeper attitudes." Logan consulted co-author Teri Faragher, executive director of the Domestic Violence Prevention Board in Lexington, Ky., and learned that she had been hearing similar reports. Armed with concrete data, Faragher could address the problem more effectively.
"Because T.K. found that a large number of women were having similar experiences," Faragher said, "it wasn't just anecdotal anymore. Whether it was language barriers or simply being turned away, there were a lot of similar reports. Because these problems were called out and identified, things have improved tremendously already. There is a long-term effort in place to correct barriers for women getting protective orders now."
One of Logan's main goals is to have her research make a difference to the community. Including the practitioner's perspective from the onset is one way for Logan to achieve that goal.
"I have a strong belief: Why do research if nobody is going to use it?" Logan said. "By working with practitioners, it's upping my chances that my research will be useful. I am not in the trenches, not on the front lines. They help me think about things I didn't think about. Or give me an alternative explanation I didn't consider. If you really want your research to make a difference, it increases the chances for that to happen."
Faragher said Logan's empathetic interviewing techniques help obtain useful information.
"T.K. likes to work with people in the field," Faragher said. "Her interests involve more than just the empirical findings; she wants to know how the systems work. We might say there's a 24-hour hotline available for victims, but when she talks to them, they tell her the reality — 'well yes, there's a hotline, but when I called it I got an answering machine.' The way she conducts her interviews and gathers information provides invaluable feedback for the systems and the way they work."
Logan and Faragher first worked together in 2002 when they examined custody and visitation issues related to domestic violence. Faragher said Logan's research helped to redirect her group's advocacy efforts. Since then, their relationship has grown, much to the benefit of the research.
"With T.K., we have these two perspectives, and when we bring them together it's symbiotic," Faragher said. "But that requires discussion. To get to that place of agreement, there has to be a lot of discussion. For example, we talk about interventions a lot — what the next steps need to be after the research. We have developed a strong enough working relationship that can withstand open discussion and disagreement."