Volume 53   Number 2 Spring 2020

From Our Members

Edited by Susan M. Wolfe, Susan Wolfe and Associates

Were We Critical Friends? Working with Values in Research

Written by Samuel Keast and Christopher Sonn, Victoria University, Australia

Conceptualising values in research is one thing, negotiating them through the layers of relationships and constraints of a community organisation and a university is something else. This article highlights some challenges in navigating values of inclusion, voice, and collaboration through the implementation of a program evaluation. The program was developed specifically for youth from the African-Australian diaspora and was largely in response to the negative representations of these young people in the media and political discourse. The not-for-profit organisation has run a number of youth-focused programs, but this was the first of its kind to respond to the needs of young people from the African-Australian diaspora.

Values-based research seeks to show how programs give voice to the wisdom young people have cultivated “at the margins of institutional betrayal and economic/racial/sexuality oppression” (Fine, 2012, pp. 355). Informed by values, methods are derived that can capture how programs have sought to foster “the embodiments of and survival skills honed in precarity” of young people faced with structural violence (Fine, 2012, pp. 356). Methods that adequately explore the complex psychosocial and sociopolitical identities of young people placed at the edges of communities by discrimination and racialization (Futch & Fine, 2014).

This means there is an important multidirectional relationship between researchers, program facilitators, program participants, and program stakeholders (Dutta et al., 2016; Fine, 2012). And the products of this kind of research-based evaluation are not regarded as politically inactive objects that report decontextualized facts, but rather that they form part of the re-imagining of radical possibilities through organisational and systemic change.

This reflection embraces Evans’ (2014) notion of ‘community psychologist as critical friend’ and will use the attributes of a critical friendship as a way to frame the processes of the project. One of the challenges as outlined by Evans (2014) in becoming a critical friend is having the time, energy (and we would add resources) to build and maintain community partnerships “that affords us the opportunity to function as critical friend” (p. 362). With increasingly short contracts, short timeframes for deliverables, and under resourced organisations and institutions this can be a significant barrier to the development of trusting supportive relationships required for critical friendship and this was certainly something this project faced. In brief, the interconnected attributes and functions of a critical friend are: co-creation of critical space, value amplification, problematising beliefs and practices, seizing teachable moments, sharing critical frameworks, critical action research and connecting community practice to networks and social movements (see Evans, 2014). Essentially these are to ensure as critical researchers we become “skilled at partnering with community-based organizations for social change without being co-opted into discourse and practices that simply maintain unjust conditions, or worse, exacerbate them” (Evans, 2014, p. 365).

We outline some of the contextual details of the program and the organisational relationships before moving into the ways in which the evaluation was conceptualised and the theoretical ideas underpinning it. We will then discuss some of the ways in which we negotiated these ideas within the various constraints of the organisational requirements on both sides. Through detailing some of the processes, relationships and findings, we hope to share the imperfections and lessons learned from undertaking an evaluation in this context.

The program and partnership

The not-for profit foundation of a professional sports club facilitated a community consultation, part of a response to the racist misrepresentations of African-Australian diaspora youth. Stakeholders at this consultation included: University staff, community Leaders, African community business owners, parents and young people from African-diaspora communities. It was also attended by representatives from state and local government, police, and school representatives. The community consultation gave rise to the African Action plan and 12-week program was developed in response to that plan. In the program students aged 14-18 were paired with a football player and community mentor with the intention to increase student engagement and provide information about employment and training pathways and opportunities. It also aimed to build interpersonal and personal skills through the use of mentoring, workshops and a goal-setting agenda. The pilot of the program began in early 2019.

The university has an ongoing relationship with the foundation and the club. Various research projects have taken part between them and it continues to be an important relationship to both parties. Program evaluations have been a cornerstone of this relationship and provide the foundation with an important source of institutional support for their various programs, whilst also providing the university with funding and opportunities for students to undertake placements and research projects. This evaluation was a part of a doctoral industry placement agreement between the university and the foundation. The placement supports a PhD student to gain industry experience with a small stipend. 

Collaborative design

A series of meetings between key program staff and researchers were held prior to the commencement of the program where conversations arose about the values that needed to be a part of the evaluation process. Values that would honour the community consultations, respect and promote the voices of young people from the African-Australian diaspora and address the requisite policy directions. As researchers our work and values are centred around the awareness of power inequities and how we might co-create contexts, moments, or places that foster social inclusion. We work with a sense of justice that seeks to question and challenge the ways in which people are marginalised, racialized and de-advantaged by socio-cultural/political contexts, institutions and organizations. We also see justice as centring the voices, experiences and expertise of those who are being marginalized.  From the outset the researchers recognised that concepts and measures utilised for more traditional program evaluation may not be able to meet these values.

Collaborative meetings continued throughout the evaluation and were often more informal and occurred at moments before or after program sessions. During these researchers were able to: listen to program staff reflect on sessions, engage with staff about the ongoing development of concepts and ideas for the program, workshop problems or issues arising within or around the program, and to continue problematising beliefs and practices.

For researchers the processes of sharing critical frameworks can often involve undoing more mainstream, culture-free research approaches in order to pursue more social justice oriented ones. In this case, partly due to the organisation’s previous exposure to more mainstream evaluation methods, but also the need for certain types of evidence produced pressures to provide simplistic indicators of the program’s success.

One of the ways we aimed to share our critical frameworks was through providing literature that not only informed the evaluation process, but that could also be used to inform the ongoing development of the program. So careful consideration was given to the kind of literature used and its accessibility so as not to alienate the organisation from the process of problematising the way we understood the issue.  The researchers chose five mains concepts to inform the work and the program: the youth engagement continuum (Pittman et al., 2007), sense of community (Pooley et al., 2002; Pretty et al., 2007; Sonn et al., 1999), sociopolitical development (Fernández et al., 2018; Hope & Jagers, 2014; Watts et al., 2003) and capacity to aspire (Appadurai, 2004). Central to all these were critical questions about how young people, particularly racialized young people, are often (mis)characterised and disempowered by traditional structures and institutions. 

The status quo of many not-for profit organisations is well-intentioned service provision for populations ‘in-need’ or ‘hard-to-reach’, but these intentions flatten criticality which is “needed but rare” and “pragmatic thinking and technical solutions such as logic models, evidenced-based curricula, performance management frameworks, and the obsessive counting of participants served have displaced critique of the status quo and imagining future possibilities” (Evans, 2014, p. 357). The challenge for this project was not only to evaluate the outcomes of the program, but to build understanding about the realities for young racialized people in Australia, how they navigate unreceptive communities, whilst also building their capacity to aspire. 

Researchers in this project sought to challenge how these young people are often conceived as being ‘in-need’, and to counter this build into the evaluation methods that would capture how these young people saw themselves in the world, their communities, and their futures. Although we used more traditional methods (observations, interviews, qualitative questionnaires) we also used mapping (Futch & Fine, 2014) as a method to engage with students. In weeks three and 12 of the program the students did their mapping sessions which sought to offer them a way to creatively express their identities, their lives and the social support around them and to be a conversation point with researchers. A wide range of materials for creating their maps was provided (e.g. paper, paint, canvases, glitter, glue, stickers, stamps and an array of drawing instruments).


Image 1. Example of mapping from the first session

An example of the mapping from the first session can be found in image 1. The student who produced this canvas made continual changes so that it evolved over the length of the session. At first, she painted the entire canvas black, they then squeezed glitter of varying colours over the black background. When asked how this represented how they saw themselves in the world they replied, "the world is black, but it depends on how you look at things" (and pointed to the glitter). Upon returning later in the session the student had covered the canvass in black again, obscuring the glitter. They told researchers now it was about social media and fame and how simple or ordinary things could become popular or unpopular, like the now black canvas. Returning again, the canvas had been readorned with shaped sequins and feathers. When asked about this new form, the student replied it was about "layers" and that you “shouldn't judge a book by its cover".


Image 2. Map from a female student

The second mapping session invited students again to depict how they saw themselves in the world, but also to reflect on how things might have changed having participated in the program. It was noted by the researchers that students on the whole were more collaborative during this session, often helping each other co-create maps. Image 2 shows a map from a female student from this session and like many others from this session they were celebratory, colourful and focused on positive messages about their identities, and/or their futures and vocations. These two examples are a snapshot of the overall collection of data for the evaluation but provide examples of how we attempted to use creative and appropriate methods, that elevated the voices and lives of the students from their perspectives in the evaluation.

Some of what we concluded for future programs

For the program to move beyond service delivery and toward systemic change future programs like these should engage more in the sociopolitical development of young people. This means, extending the content beyond generic youth development toward engaging young people in critical social analysis as future social change agents in their communities.  In future planning prospective program participants should be consulted about how they’d like their community represented within programs.

 While the researchers acknowledge the limits of resources available to such programs, our experience highlights how vital it is for programs to understand who participants and their communities are, and what those communities mean to them. To achieve a balance between flexibility and structure, programs need to have well-developed and evidenced models that can inform the best strategies for program delivery. Future focus also needs to acknowledge the reality of the contexts which racialize certain young people and that through sociopolitical development they can build capacities for civic engagement and social action.

What we concluded about our work – Were we able to be critical friends?

As researchers regularly engaged with concepts and literature it can be easy to forget that those working in program delivery often do not have the time to devote to learning new critical frameworks and that perhaps some of our earlier teachable moments contained too many concepts that were new to the organisation and program. Perhaps a more scaffolded approach could have made these teachable moments more successful. This could also apply to the ways in which we worked with problematising beliefs and practices, which although arose at specific times throughout the program, there was not a process or space established by which critical reflection could become a part of the work the organisation did. Some of the questions that linger from our reflections are: How do we leave problematising as a critical skill once we have left? And how do we introduce or foster a critical friendship between program staff and their own organisation?

Author Information

Samuel Keast, PhD Student, Victoria University, Institute for Health and Sport, Australia

Professor Christopher Sonn Victoria University, Institute for Health and Sport, Australia


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Political Subjectivity and Autobiography: The Teacher Who Investigates Their Practice

Written by Ana María Calderón Jaramillo Ph.D., Universidad San Sebastián, Patagonia, Chile


The research carried out addressed the subject of political subjectivity in higher education and its relationship with the Didactics of Social Sciences. It is based on Political Psychology and problematized the way in which subjectivity develops in higher education. The developments of González (2002, 2005) on subjectivity and Pagés (1994, 1998) on didactics were taken into account.

The study has its origins in two previous investigations that questioned the political (Calderón, 2009 and Calderón, 2012) and recognized that it was politics that made possible the exchange of meanings and involved people to have new positions on the social reality of others. In addition, it was evident in these antecedents that what created the need to transform certain problematic situations, was precisely the emotional involvement of the people. Therefore, it was necessary to generate emotions through learning so that people would commit to change.

Finally, it was understood that training and learning are political actions where there are interactions and exchange of meanings and meanings. So, addressing political subjectivity in the classroom context was central to the configuration of the present investigation.

Current research.

The study sought the understanding of political subjectivity in higher education, so the techniques and instruments were important to deepen the sample or unit of analysis (Rodríguez, Gil, García, 1999), which was composed of freshman psychology students. The study considered: 1) the deep description of the case; 2) the description of the context in which the case was developed; 3) triangulation of information; and 4) ethical considerations. Finally, it was in this group that the researcher fulfilled a double role, as a professor and researcher.

The Methodology

In qualitative research the intention of the researcher is to favor dialogue between people, also called participants or co-researchers and to foster a confidence scenario for the production of knowledge. For Flick (2007), qualitative research recognizes: the suitability of methods and theories, from the participants and their diversity, the ability of the researcher to reflect on what he is doing, and the production of knowledge as an epistemological break with quantitative research.

According to González (2002), investigating subjectivity requires a constructive-interpretative posture. Also, Taylor and Bogdan (1987) reported that collecting and interpreting data allows the researcher to observe the phenomenon from the inside and be included as part of the data. The professor who investigates his own practice is part of the research and can interpret his productions (Flick, 2007), establishing a dynamic of permanent conversation with the other participants. Therefore, qualitative research seeks to understand the phenomenon from the representations and meanings that people create through narrative, expression of meanings, subjective senses, and that can be known through questionnaire completion of phrases or analysis of photographs (Lozano, 2008).

Finally, the autobiographical methods that were born with Tomás and Znaniecki in 1927 (Rodríguez, Gil, García, 1999), are an option to deepen their own subjectivity and have been used to reflect on: a) the emotions that teachers have about some acts; b) anecdotes that teachers remember on a subject; and c) emotions about classroom dynamics.

The Instruments

A diagnostic instrument consisting of identification data and four questions was applied. Participants were consulted about the activities that worked on controversial issues and the opinions that had access to higher education and the Mapuche conflict.

Finally, the students analyzed two images, one on the Chilean student march of 2012 and another on a Mapuche ceremony held in 2014. For the construction and application of the instruments, the following criteria were taken into account: a) the conceptual and methodological frameworks must be consistent with the instruments and with the information collected; b) the instruments must have a familiar and coherent language with the career and the subject; and c) when validating the instruments with experts, special care was taken with the contents of the curriculum.

The teacher and researcher also trained and included her autobiography. For the construction of the autobiography the following was taken into account: a) the questions focused on the meaning attributed by the teacher to a specific activity; b) the facts and the meaning attributed by the teacher; and c) the actions that were developed with the group of psychology students and the subjective senses produced.

In both cases, the instruments that were applied were validated with experts, following the criteria of qualitative research.

The Results

The data were analyzed taking into account Glaser's grounded theory (1992) and the construction of meaning frames from the qualitative epistemology of González-Rey (2007). First, the data were collected systematically, the codes presented in the students' responses were recognized, and categories were constructed.

Regarding the results of the group of students it is possible to mention the following three points:

1) Students who come from public establishments were recognized in everyday situations aspects of politics, get interested in different realities, and from there build their senses.

2) Volunteer activities and those carried out during their school years marked the meaning they give to their vocational development, so their political subjectivity unfolds with situations of social vulnerability.

3) Students who describe, think and construct explanations about a situation, articulating opinion with disciplinary concepts, manage to display their political subjectivity. Therefore, encouraging spaces for students to generate opinions and explanations that have a particular content and vision can strengthen their learning.

Regarding the results of the teacher-researcher, it is necessary to point out the following:

1) To take the controversy to the classroom to generate the unfolding subjectivities in students, requires the teacher's ability to problematize a situation, a topic, a concept, or a particular historical event. Therefore, in the training of psychologists, the controversy must be placed in the problematization of the historical, social, political and economic context in which the "mental illnesses" and the theories that reveal them arise, and not in the clinical vision that the teacher maintains to pathologize reality itself.

2) The autobiographical story propitiates the unfolding of the subjectivity of the teacher, who makes conscious the actions that it produces from the senses that the students deliver in a classroom context and on concrete situations linked to the current social reality.

3) The teacher who researches their own practice recognizes that training is also a political action where worldviews intervene and where the need to generate concessions is what encourages learning.

Closing Words

Carrying out research processes on the practice itself is to ask about the role of the teacher, which not only guides the learning processes but to guide their work so that their students are involved in the development of social actions to mobilize changes in society. Therefore, researching the practice itself is essential to recognize the best way to approach students to the current social reality, analyze the interactions that occur in the classroom and the way in which the teacher can improve them to enhance their learning. Recognize that, not only is it important to be a professional but to contribute to society, it must be a purpose of professional training. Building alternatives to improve some social problems and not reproduce in the classroom the inequalities that we observe on a daily basis, is a fundamental objective in a conscious teaching focused on creating situations that generate controversy and collaborate with the development of social skills in our students.


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Fostering and Sustaining Solidarities in Melbourne, Australia: The 8th International Conference on Community Psychology

Written by Christopher Sonn, Samuel Keast, and Heather Gridley, Victoria University, Australia and Rachael Fox, Charles Sturt University, Australia


TCP EDITOR NOTE: Since this article was submitted, the conference committee announced that ICCP2020 would not be held as scheduled due to COVID 19. As of the date of publication of this issue of TCP, next steps have not been announced.


The 8th International Conference on Community Psychology (ICCP2020) will be hosted by Victoria University in partnership with the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Community Psychologists, with support from colleagues from around Australia and in neighbouring countries. Many of the people supporting the event have participated in the development of international community psychology via the previous ICCPs. We are excited by this opportunity to showcase the work of so many people, agencies, industries, and other collaborators who place great pride in contributing to social change and to individual and community wellbeing through innovative, critical and engaged research, teaching and practice. Not only this, we know that we will be enriched by the exchanges of knowledge and experiences that take place when people from diverse cultures, countries, industries and disciplines come together. Melbourne, and within it our town of Footscray, is a wonderful place celebrated for its cosmopolitanism, anchored in the various diasporas that continue to shape its identity. We look forward to hosting the event to help contribute to the critical projects of community psychology locally and globally.

Community Psychology in Australia

Community psychology’s development in Australia has largely been confined to two states (Victoria and Western Australia) 4,000 km apart – despite the College (then Board) of Community Psychologists having been established more than 30 years ago. From tensions between the dominant psychology paradigm and calls to radical action, between its odd couple parents in community-based mental health service delivery and applied social psychology, and between a strong practitioner base and the emergence of postgraduate programs, community psychology’s formal history in the region has some parallels with history elsewhere, particularly in the United States. Informally, however, the climate in which it was born was distinctly Australian, resonating with the cultural pluralism and emergent debates around decolonisation, feminism, the peace movement and political realignment within the Asia-Pacific region that characterised the 1970s in this country. Several aspects of that history invite critical interrogation: the impact of the decision to locate the subdiscipline as a professional specialisation; the role of community psychologists in consciousness-raising around social justice within psychology and society; and the importance of place in determining the nature of community psychology theorising and applications in this part of the world, and beyond.

Location for ICCP2020

ICCP2020 builds on previous conferences and will be held at Victoria University’s Footscray Park Campus. This location was originally and continues to be home to Aboriginal communities, and we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri,Woi Wurrung and Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation. The Western suburbs of Melbourne have distinctive cultural, economic, and socio-political histories, woven from successive waves of migration and a strong industrial base. These histories are continually transformed through various processes related to globalisation, migration, and dynamics of community and placemaking. Often celebrated for its cultural diversity, the location is also marked by high levels of inequality that are exacerbated by de-industrialisation, urban renewal and gentrification, with attendant consequences for the health and wellbeing of differently positioned communities. Within this context, with such complex and diverse social and cultural history, there can also be found extraordinary examples of creativity, communality, survival, and solidarity.

ICCP2020 in Context

ICCP2020 seeks to celebrate and interrogate the ways solidarities are fostered and sustained within community contexts, across borders and boundaries, and through processes of knowledge production. The conference builds on recurring themes from previous ICCPs as well as the more recent SCRA conference held in Chicago at National Louis University (2019). Those themes recognize borders and boundaries as playing a key role in reinforcing privilege/power, marginalisation and social inequalities, and the importance of deconstructing those hegemonies by building solidarities across communities, disciplines, and sectors. To ‘create’ these solidarities within and beyond community psychology, we want to explore how people are coming together, forming alliances and partnerships, but also going beyond those to forge solidarities central to the goals of liberation, empowerment and wellbeing. We are interested in how social actors are tackling the matrix of power/privilege and coloniality, and forging solidarities in and through research and action aimed at structural and epistemic inclusion and individual and community wellbeing. We have an exciting program that will showcase and advance scholarship, activism, practice, and critical scholarly engagement that seeks to bring about sustainability, inclusivity, and wellbeing for all.

Program snapshot

We received over 350 submissions from around the world, with 70% from international delegates. There will be a Spanish-language stream and dual translation of keynote sessions. The content looks stimulating and will be presented in a range of formats including symposia, roundtables, ignite sessions, and posters. There will be open dialogue opportunities, and several pre-conference workshops will focus on skills and knowledge building in areas such as: Community Based Participatory Research, Doing Ethical Research Together, Arts and Creative Reflexivity. Other workshops will tackle critical issues of gender-based violence, climate change, racism, poverty, and fostering community, justice and inclusion.  There will also be keynote sessions with world leaders in community psychology and Indigenous scholarship (e.g., Tony Birch, Australia; Michelle Fine, USA; Regina Langhout, USA; Linda Nikora, Aotearoa/NZ; Kopano Ratele, South Africa; Pat Dudgeon, Australia).

We have received critical, innovative and cutting-edge submissions across all the themes outlined in the call for papers. The Knowledge for sustainable futures theme sets out to promote theories and approaches from the global south to ensure inclusion and wellbeing. The theme responds to the ‘decolonial turn’, intersectional feminist theory, critical race scholarship, and indigenous knowledge around the world, and seeks to understand how these can advance community research and action towards its goals of liberation, community and wellness.  To this end, some of the titles we received were: Healing and climate sustainability: Our role as community psychologistsEngaging the decolonial turn: Mapping decolonial transnational critical community psychologiesMayan Indigenous psychologies in an era of decolonization.

In line with the community psychology goals of promoting wellbeing, many submissions responded to the theme of Creating inclusive cultures and healthy communities by focusing on one or more levels of individual, community and social change to address inequity and its deleterious effects in local and global contexts. Some of the topics that will be presented are: A wellness program for mothers living in a South African high-risk community: Enacting a community-based participatory action approach; An exploratory study on mental health literacy and help-seeking behavior in Indonesian-Muslims; Embracing interdisciplinarity within community psychology to support inclusion of people with disabilities; and Culture, power, and collective mattering: Building the beloved community. 

Working the boundaries received submissions that overlap by definition with other areas, but several focus on interdisciplinarity, systems approaches, and organisational capacitation. Some examples are: Community capacity building and health promotion through an interactive systems framework; Chinese allyship building: From stranger to ally; Can organisations with a beating heart please stand up?; Kanaeokana: Developing a network to transform education and sustain aloha ʻāina’; and Critical solidarity and community psychology praxes.

The theme of Global dynamics in local expressions captures the unique localised impacts of broader, socio-political, economic and migration dynamics and ideologies that are giving rise to new and renewed local expressions of (dis) advantage and privilege. Titles on the program include: Subjective well-being and perception of exposure to violence of Brazilian children and adolescents in different contexts; Sustainable communities as inclusive communities: The role of social and political participation; Preserving refugee cultural integrity: Understanding peer support systems using life story narrative; and The health of migrants and refugees: Community and psychosocial support approach.

We are excited about the conference and we hope to see many of you in Melbourne.  Please visit the conference webpage at for more details. Lastly, we want to support student access and are seeking donations to this end. You can make a contribution when you register or by following the tabs on the webpage. If you would like further information you can contact us at with the subject header ICCP2020.