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LEAD - Legislative Education & Advocacy Development Guide

This guide was developed for the LEAD Program

Knowledge Acquisition & Construction - Appraisal, Evaluation, Ethics

The knowledge you need to create your briefing will be both acquired and constructed. Your acquisition of knowledge may take a variety of forms, but will generally fall into one of two categories:  

1) talking to subject experts and/or persons with direct experience about what they have learned;   

2) exploring recorded information in forms such as news reporting, letters to editors discussing events and reports, technical and governmental reports, original research, reviews or synthesized appraisals of original research, scholarly works elaborating theory and explanatory models, data and statistical summaries, reference works, textbooks, encyclopedias, and many other types of knowledge resources.

 

Often the knowledge you need for your briefing will require you to assemble information objects such as  facts, concepts, and procedures and then, construct a narrative about what each of these information objects means in relationship to other objects, and outline how this assemblage of knowledge objects may or may not lead to a conclusion or set of branching possible conclusions.

A critical step in this process of knowledge acquisition and construction includes clear identification of the nature of facts, concepts, and procedures you are seeking to discover, appraise, and utilize in a narrative construction. The following reviews the meaning of facts, concepts, and procedures.

Note, knowledge construction for story-telling may look at knowledge objects from the point of view of appraisal, which considers the process used to attain the knowledge and the evidential warrant of the knowledge within an epistemic framework, or from the point of view of evaluation, which might contemplate the persuasive efficacy of the knowledge object in an overall argument. The ethical representation of knowledge should always be given consideration in both the realm of appraisal and evaluation, particularly in situations where a robust adversarial system of debate is lacking.  

Facts

FACTS address certain questions:

Can you express the factual information you are seeking in one or a combination of question formats starting with - Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Who observed the data? What circumstances were represented in the data? When was it acquired? Where did the observation take place? Why was the observation made? How was the data gathered, measured, validated, stored, expressed, disseminated, etc.

Can you articulate what makes something a fact? See Auburn University’s page, “Fact, Opinion, False Claim, or Untested Claim” http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/Fact-opinion.html .  

Key points addressed in this page:

  • “Fact: Statement about the real world supported by convergent evidence. Facts can be empirical, analytical, evaluative, or metaphysical”  
  •  “Opinion: Self-report or attitudinal statement”
  • “False claim: Statement about the real work refuted by evidence.”
  • “Untested claim: Vague, ambiguous, or incomplete claim OR factual claim for which evidence is yet unavailable.”

Visit the Auburn University page linked above. Define, differentiate, and offer an example of the following types of facts: 1) Empirical facts, 2) Untested claims, 3) False claims, 4) Analytic facts, 5) Evaluative facts, and 6) Metaphysical facts   

 

Concepts - We Discover By Looking Through The Lens of Concepts And Assumptions

CONCEPTS: In Politics and Generally

The multidisciplinary journal, Political Concepts, can be linked to at http://www.politicalconcepts.org/editorial-preface/ - where the following perspective is proposed vis a vis the concept of politics (the bolding is added here):

“Our aim is to expand the scope of what demands political accounting, and for this reason we welcome essays that fashion new political concepts or demonstrate how concepts deserve to be taken as politically significant. It is our view that “politics” refers to the multiplicity of forces, structures, problems, and orientations that shape our collective life. Politics enters the frame wherever our lives together are staked and wherever collective action could make a difference to the outcome. As no discipline possesses an hegemony over this critical space, we welcome submissions from all fields of study.”   (Pol. Concepts. v1(1), Fall 2016, Editorial Statement)

In the same issue of Political Concepts, Adi Ophir’s essay “Concept” offers us a working definition of the idea of "concepts" and advice about the importance of really and truly understanding a concept before employing it: 

“A term becomes a concept only when we take the time to disengage it from its daily uses in order to put it on display, wonder about its meaning, explicate it, and render public its discursive being. .... Terms are ‘black boxes’ of meaning that people know how to put to use in order for communication to flow, arguments to be understood, and actions to be successful. Concepts are what happens when people open these black boxes and ask ‘what is this, anyway?’” (Pol. Concepts. v1(1), Fall 2016, http://www.politicalconcepts.org/issue1/concept/

 

Efficient and effective acquisition of knowledge by way of literature review and knowledge resource searching often occurs by way of concept-based query in the online environment.  Conceptual query of the literature may utilize either free-text (natural language keywords) or subject-indexed based terminology. Subject-indexed based terminology can be looked up in most databases by searching their thesauri or subject heading lists. Optimal searching is often accomplished by combinations of free-text and subject headings.

Since most information and knowledge discovery depends on the use of conceptual terminology, the more refined and diversified your conceptual vocabulary, the more breadth and shading your conceptual toolkit contains, the better your potential for the discovery of evidence. When you review literature, always be alert for the various ways concepts are presented, differentiated, evolved, initiated, introduced, extended into new contexts, reworded, etc. Notice how terms come into use and go out of fashion 5 years later. Notice when a term is first used in a classification system because that will directly impact its usefulness with searching historical literature in databases.    

 

Complex abstractions and concepts have a history and a scope of meaning which evolves over time. The following example may be familiar to healthcare researchers. Medical Subject Headings (MeSH terms) that organize retrieval of over 26 million literature citations in PubMed are concepts that have been defined and entered into use by committee process after examination of the terminology usage in scientific discourse. From time to time, these concepts are reviewed and some are formally retired from active use in indexing (tagging) the literature because another concept has superseded it as a meaningful focus in the literature of the time. 

Read into the recent history of a concept or problem in the most current textbooks, references (e.g, encyclopedia), guidelines, point-of-care tools, white papers from a major organizations, or comprehensive expert reviews. Frequently, these reference sources allow you to understand the evolution of terms, concepts, and history of knowledge in an area. They describe arguments that have arisen concerning facts, concepts, and procedures as well as those elements that have been settled by consensus or remain in active debate. Beyond telling you what is settled, current reference sources will often take you to the cutting edge of new lines of argument or investigation. Look for the last publications in a topical thread and search for articles citing them in search platforms like Web of Knowledge (Web of Science), SCOPUS, or Google Scholar. Be aware that while Wikipedia is a wonderful resource for reading into some topics, particularly for lay persons reading into science to gain basic familiarity, the political and historical sections can be heavily biased and may present information as fact when in fact it is opinion or falsely claimed.

An example of a controversial concept that has drastically changed in meaning over time is the concept of "race" which is discussed in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/race/   Notably, the Encyclopedia entry itself has changed and bears the note: "First published Wed May 28, 2008; substantive revision Wed Feb 17, 2016."

 

Concepts can both expand and limit our thinking and even our perception. For example, over 70 terms for different types of snow have evolved in the language of the indigenous people of the polar regions, in comparison to a much smaller set of distinctive snow concepts used in other cultures and climes. This enriched vocabulary affects the highly differentiated way indigenous people see snow and interpret its impact on their daily lives and activities. Can you think of any ways in which specialized terminology can be used to prompt an observer to focus in on a particular aspect of a situation? Can you imagine how the ability to focus in by utilizing a concept can have beneficial and detrimental outcomes, depending on the context of the focal exercise?

The quality of your results when searching for knowledge objects is determined by the qualities of the concepts you employ, the strategy for discovery you design, your understanding of conceptual families and their evolutionary pathways through literature, your sensitivity to the context in which information was developed and the limits on its applicability beyond those contexts, your awareness of what is not being said or is excluded from discussion, and many other features associated with the critical appraisal of knowledge and information.  

 

Consider the following as you search for evidence: 1) finding something interesting is different than finding precisely the right knowledge to address a problem; 2) finding some evidence is different than finding the "best evidence"; 3) the "best evidence" changes over time and is context-specific in application as well as subject to the values prioritized in the initial problem formulation; 4) finding something new procedurally is different than finding the cutting edge of innovation from the leaders of a field, although it may be the case that something new will soon recast the leadership in a field; 5) publication bias (e.g., publishing positive results but not negative or non-significant findings) is a serious problem because of its potential to skew the "big picture" or aggregated summary of evidence upon which disciplines rely for decision-making; 6) reports of studies discovered in an online search using a platform such as Google Scholar tend to be isolated nuggets in comparison to reports published in PubMed, where information about errata, corrections, new versions, and robust editorial debate are available via linked letters to the editors; 7) letters to the editor are often well worth reading even concerning older research because they represent the passionate and expert debate of specialists in an area who may also share unpublished data or understand a context-dependent confounder that was not identified in normal peer-review; 8) the quality of evidence in a review or guideline is at least partially a function of the breadth of the initial discovery process implemented to gather the studies included in the review; 9) in appraising evidence, it is very useful to understand why your opponents object to the evidence and to consider the subtleties of bias and cultural influences that may afflict your own perspective; and 10) discovery platforms such as Google Scholar have advantages for certain types of discovery over the structured forums (e.g., PubMed) because of an increased capacity to mine the full-text for concepts or data that are not included in the limited citation records comprising the databases - that said, searches that combine a variety of knowledge sources are superior.

 

 

Understanding Procedural Knowledge Construction - The Mediation Process - Recommended E-Book

Understanding Public Knowledge Contruction - Recommended E-Book

Disclosures

This guide and theory pages were conceived and written by Maureen Clark with James Ronayne as a scholarly work for the purposes of supporting  education and research in legislative advocacy. 

Suggested citation:

MD Clark & JP Ronayne. Legislative Education & Advocacy Development (LEAD) Guide. Library of the Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2016-18.