CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

Chapter III: Knowledge Utilization And The Department Of Education (DOE)

 

Using Knowledge and Technology to Improve the Quality of Life of People who have Disabilities: A Prosumer Approach by Laura A. Edwards

Chapter III: Knowledge Utilization And The Department Of Education (DOE)

 

Rehabilitation services, research, and training are administered at the federal level through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) under the Department of Education (DOE). To best understand research utilization in the rehabilitation field and its relationship to people with disabilities, it is useful to identify utilization practices in the larger entity, the Department of Education. That department has been involved in research dissemination and utilization efforts since the late fifties even before it separated from the combined Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. This chapter discusses dissemination and utilization historically for general education, special education, and then rehabilitation.

 

I. HISTORY OF GENERAL EDUCATION DISSEMINATION & USE            

 

A. The Framework:

 

Research and Development       Larry Hutchins (1989) reviewed the federal education dissemination activities from 1958 to 1983 and much of what follows comes from his article. That history began with the federal government's educational program administered by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and ended with it administered by the Department of Education. It began with the Cooperative Research Act of 1954 which was designed to foster "'extramural research' outside the Office of Education" (Hutchins, 1989:11). It ended with a wide range of dissemination and utilization programs sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement within the Department of Education. The many organizational changes within each department as well as between departments influenced the character of present dissemination and utilization programs. In fact, at one time two independent related units--the Office of Education and the National Institute of Education--within the same department offered similar programs. They did so with differing philosophies and approaches as illustrated in the following descriptions of dissemination strategies.    

 

B. Dissemination strategies

 

ERIC, the Educational Resources Information Center, began in 1963 (under the Office of Education within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare) as an archives for "unpublished, 'fugitive' documents generated by the rapidly expanding federal research effort" (Hutchins, 1989:11). Eventually it became a large, international, and widely used document information system. Generally, it is dependent on researchers and innovaters submitting documentation to stay up-to-date and comprehensive. Horn and Clements (1989) provide a detailed 20-year history of ERIC and its future. The State Dissemination Capacity Building Program began in the late sixties by the Office of Education to "improve state education agencies' ability to serve practitioners through resources, linkage, and leadership" (Hutchins, 1989:13). The state education agencies were to be an extension agent system somewhat as operated under the land-grant university and the agricultural model of dissemination. State agencies did not have to follow any federal (top-down) model nor were they required to provide extension agents. The designers of the program believed that the primary responsibility for education lay with the states and not with the federal government. Hutchins believes the program did not achieve its long-range objectives "in part through a lack of funds and because of the failure of the state legislatures and state boards of education to buy into the design with their own resources" (Ibid). Also, as Hutchins later explains, it did not succeed because of the movement to the National Institute of Education (NIE) with its differing philosophy, staff, and management.    

 

Parallel yet different dissemination emphases occurred under the Office of Education (OE) and the National Institute of Education (NIE). When NIE was created, ERIC and State Dissemination Capacity Building Programs were transferred from OE to NIE as part of the transfer of general dissemination authority. Eventually the Office of Education sponsored PIP (Product Information Packages) and NDN (National Diffusion Network) to disseminate its own programs while NIE sponsored, among other programs, EPIE (Educational Products Information Exchange) and RDx (Research and Development Exchange). "EPIE...best described as a consumers' union in education, still exists and provides such things as comparative evaluation of audiovisual hardware, comparisons of the scope and sequence of major commercial curriculum products, information about the alignment of tests and text, and information about computer software" (Ibid, 17).           

 

Research and Development Exchange (RDx) promoted collaborative dissemination efforts among Regional Educational Laboratories and research centers. "When labs were originally founded, the image of their core function was an engineering one. Basic research would be transformed, through curriculum, so that students would be taught in the best way known. Lab dissemination was geared to the adoption and implementation of research-based curricula" (Bagenstos, 1989:31). While RDx no longer exists to promote collaboration, the laboratories and centers continue to cooperate and to disseminate information about their products.

 

Several studies appeared between 1977 and 1983 emphasizing concepts such as consideration of the needs of the site, mutual adaptation, site involvement in problem identification and choosing the solution, and external assistance during the change process. Labs began looking at their roles differently and federal policy began emphasizing the facilitative role labs served in dissemination (Bagenstos, 1989:31).  

 

Hutchins (1989:17) says that part of the reason National Institute of Education (NIE) rejected the Office of Education (OE) strategies for dissemination was that newer studies had identified the relative "naivete of the linear model of R&D that initially was used as the basis for federal dissemination efforts." Strategies NIE designed to address the complexities associated with utilization included the Local Problem Solving Program (which had some similarities to the State Dissemination Capacity Building Program), Far West Laboratory's Research, Development, Dissemination, and Evaluation efforts, and the Research and Development Utilization (RDU) Program. The Local Problem Solving Program funded local organizations for development of their own innovations to meet their locally determined needs. The RDU Program represents a middle of the road approach. An approach that avoids the product advocacy perspective (prevalent at OE) and the local development or bottoms-up perspective. Instead they tried to link users to resource systems more systematically than the Local Problem Solving Program (Ibid, 18-19). The RDU Program acknowledged the importance of local commitment and of the use of high-quality resources from other sources rather than local development. In an effort to reconcile differences among federal dissemination programs two forums were held. The first forum produced a consensus statement defining dissemination that hopefully would lead to greater collaboration among the dissemination programs. The differing models underlying the differences: Research Development Dissemination & Evaluation model, the social interaction model, problem-solver model, and the linkage model (Ibid, 22). The interaction and problem-solver models have elements useful in a prosumer approach to knowledge utilization.    

 

Hutchins' concluding remarks highlight the cutbacks in the remaining programs--ERIC, NDN, and Regional Educational Laboratories--, the lack of new dissemination emphasis, and the focus on new reform movements rather than product- or research-based improvements. He references a 1983 study by the Network in Massachusetts that documented the lack of evidence over a 25-year period for one strategy being any better than another. "Quality information, technical assistance, organizational development, all delivered through a complex set of cooperating organizations and people, produce change" (Ibid, 23).        

 

Hutchins pointed to the funding differences of 47 cents for launching agricultural dissemination efforts per dollar for research and demonstration to 10 cents for launching educational dissemination efforts. He expressed concern that "the proponents of the new changes in education have not spent any more time thinking out how schools change than their counterparts in the 1960's did. The hypodermic needle approach seems to have been replaced with a club to the head. The assumption seems to be that if the states just mandate these programs, change will occur. History seems to be repeating itself. The question is whether we are willing to learn from history" (Ibid).       

Other authors highlight features or lack of features in the federal education dissemination policy. Bagenstos recommends a research component to accompany federal dissemination activities (1989:35). Komoski identifies problems with consumer information in education and the need for the Department of Education to make solving those problems a major priority of educational policy (1989:54-56). Klein provides examples of efforts to synthesize knowledge and suggests how research and development efforts could contribute to improved synthesis (1989:64-70). Klein, Gwaltney, and Payer (1990) charted the present infrastructure of dissemination efforts by the United States Department of Education. They distributed the dissemination functions of spread, choice, exchange, and implementation across general or multi-purpose dissemination components. They gave examples of special purpose dissemination components and potential new components such as consensus panels and treasure chest. The chart that follows also identifies potential new components including consensus panels and computerized treasure chests.

 

II. HISTORY OF SPECIAL EDUCATION DISSEMINATION & USE

Backer (1986) summarized the history of dissemination efforts specific to special education. The Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH) and later the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) have been responsible for educational technology funding for disabled children in schools. The passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act in 1975 provided a broader mandate for development and dissemination of innovative curriculum and educational technology. Evaluations of BEH approaches to date conducted in 1976 and 1978 by the Contract Research Corporation pointed to low levels of dissemination and use of BEH funded products. Few developers attempted such activities. Factors affecting such innovation transfer included the small population size, the heterogeneity of the population, the increased size and subsequent demand for innovations, and the mainstreaming context of the innovations (Backer, 1986:60).          

 

One in-house study in l976 suggested a need for a new face for dissemination strategies (Ibid). No longer would one uniform strategy be sufficient for dissemination. Some dissemination strategies needed full support by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH) while others needed either a combination of BEH support plus private or public funding or non-BEH sources. The concept of marketing rather than dissemination would also add to improved utilization. Recommendations such as those impacted on the subsequent decade of activities in special education.

 

Backer described a number of projects and activities supported by the Office of Special Education Programs. Those include, but are not limited to, the following: market linkage, curriculum adaptation, analysis of marketing educational technology software, research in progress project, Specialnet (a computer network), Special Education Software Center, National Network Resource Directory, Center for Special Education Technology Information Exchange, technical assistance for local school districts, Regional Resource Centers, Early Childhood Education Program, and the Handicapped Children's Early Education Program (HCEEP). The latter program created in 1969 was evaluated by Littlejohn for a ten-year period. Findings included facts such as eighty percent of 280 projects studied continued to serve children independent of HCEEP funding and that state and national impact of its programs has been varied and extensive.

 

III. HISTORY OF RESEARCH UTILIZATION IN RSA/NIDRR

            Several structural changes not dissimilar to those in education marked the development of research utilization in the rehabilitation field. The Vocational Rehabilitation Administration (VRA) became the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and changed department auspices several times. The National Institute on Handicapped Research (NIHR) began taking on many of the rehabilitation research and utilization activities previously funded and monitored by VRA/RSA. Creating a Division of Research Information and Utilization within NIHR gave even more legitimacy to the effort. Today NIHR is known as the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and oversees the major utilization studies and practices. Reviews of research utilization activities in the rehabilitation field include those by Backer (1986), Senkevitch and Roth (1981), Reynolds and Vachon (1980), Hamilton and Muthard (1975), Engstrom (1975, 1970, 1969), Murphy (1975), Havelock (1974, 1969), Rogers (1971, 1967), Usdane (1971), Bolton (1979, 1974) and Boldin, Margolin, and Stotsky (1969). Backer (1986) astutely observes that "in a sense, rehabilitation more than many other human service fields has been utilization-oriented, because the field itself has always been results-oriented."           

 

In discussing research utilization efforts in the rehabilitation field this section begins with the kinds of utilization activities, moves to the phases of utilization efforts, and concludes with the unresolved issues and signs for the future of research utilization activities.       

 

A. Its beginnings: Research & Demonstrations     

 

The impetus for formalized knowledge utilization efforts in the rehabilitation field, according to Hamilton and Muthard (1975), stemmed from a 1966 meeting of the Joint Liaison Committee of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Rehabilitation Counselor Educators. They met in Miami that year to consider "the state of the art...in the communication, dissemination, and utilization of rehabilitation research information." Why? Because the new research and demonstration programs of the late fifties were flooding the Central Office with volumes of reports that the limited central office staff could not monitor and distribute. At that meeting William Usdane, head of the division for research and demonstration, overviewed the dissemination and utilization activities practiced at that time. "These activities included stocking and distributing final research reports, publishing an annotated listing of funded projects and a bibliography of project reports, funding selected demonstration projects, and sponsoring projects specifically related to research utilization" (Hamilton and Muthard, 1975:2).         

 

Everett Rogers, a communications specialist, also spoke at that meeting. He identified for that Committee six system-related elements that hindered utilization efforts:

   --The social system into which the innovation is being introduced is composed of professionals.

  --The sources of innovation are often far removed from the receivers or potential adopters.

  --The hierarchical structures existing in the VR field often act as barriers or resistant forces to the diffusion of innovations.       

  --The type of innovation decision is often 'forced' rather than 'optional' and is likely to be made collectively rather than individually.

  --VR innovations seldom have high relative advantage and  their consequences are often difficult to measure and        evaluate.

  --The 'closure' orientation of VR personnel serves to  divert attention from consideration of innovative ideas    (Ibid, 2).

 

Among his recommendations was one proposing a nationwide experimental program using change agents within the vocational rehabilitation system (Ibid, 4).           The 1966 Vocational Rehabilitation Administration Task Force on Research Utilization considered Roger's idea as well as ideas gleaned from a VRA-funded study on the transfer of innovations in Goodwill Industries (Ibid, 4).     

 

B. Research Utilization Specialists & Laboratories           

 

In 1969, under a five-year federally funded Research Utilization Program, nine research utilization specialists (RUS) began exploring ways to overcome some of the obstacles Rogers had identified. They looked at a variety of ways to get state vocational rehabilitation agencies to use the results of increasing numbers of rehabilitation research projects. They used varied awareness and interest development strategies including dissemination of abstracts, research reports, newsletters, annotated bibliographies, unsolicited information packages in attractive, convenient-to-use forms as well as conference exhibits, research reviews at staffings, and seminars. To promote trial, evaluation, and adoption of the findings, the research utilization specialists initiated contact with potential leaders. In some instances the RUS conducted needs surveys, linked researchers and service providers, and offered technical assistance to users of research.             The nine research utilization specialists thought of themselves as change agents modeled after the highly successful agricultural change agents. Both initiated contact with potential users, usually with an innovation or set of research findings in hand to promote. In some instances, they began with the identified needs and then searched for relevant innovations or research results. Success varied for a number of reasons. Some related to the quality and nature of the research product and its packaging. Some related to the characteristics of the state rehabilitation agencies in which the innovations were to be used. Some related to the individuals intended as users and still others related to the change agent. Glaser and Backer were among the first to evaluate the specialists' approach (Backer, 1986).         

 

The federal director of the National Research Utilization Specialists Project, George Engstrom, wrote at the conclusion of the projects and the evaluations--           

 

 Project results clearly indicate that research utilization is a system, it cannot reside in only one individual within  a social service agency....the successful change agent will  share the tasks which make up a research utilization  system--using the services of a librarian for information storage and retrieval, turning the conduct and evaluation of  demonstration projects over to those responsible for ultimate adoption, and returning administrative control of a newly-introduced and stabilized program to the appropriate agency staff member (Hamilton & Muthard, 1975:138).            

 

During this time period the federal office produced Research Utilization Guidelines and Guidelines for Preparing Final Research & Demonstration Reports. The Regional Rehabilitation Research Institute in Research Utilization based at the University of Florida conducted pioneering research studies on the research utilization process and developed in collaboration with Research and Training Centers packages of information on RTC innovations (Backer, 1986). They also developed a manual on research utilization, a review of 25 "best-practice" projects, and the compilation of experiences from the RUSs (Backer, 1986).       

 

Research Utilization Laboratories begun in conjunction with, and as an extension to, the National Research Utilization Specialists Project carried the utilization banner up to the l980's. The laboratories assumed the responsibility for taking an "identified body of rehabilitation research findings and translating it into a form usable by professionals in the field" (Backer, 1986:46). In 1977 to 1979 the National Institute for Advanced Studies evaluated the four laboratories based in New York, Chicago, Texas, and Virginia to determine impact and help strengthen their effectiveness.          

 

C. Publications, conferences, and information centers   

Publications, conferences, and national information centers became prominent next in the growth of the rehabilitation research utilization program. Many of these early efforts continue to impact the field of rehabilitation. An early ongoing activity supporting the dissemination and utilization effort is a publication known as the Rehab Brief (known as the R & D Briefs in the early days). That four-page publication summarizes and highlights one or more related research studies several times a year. The writing style makes reading research results easier and enjoyable for all potential users. For researchers, especially in Research and Training Centers, a publication known as the Informer provided updates on research in progress as well as completed projects. This publication was discontinued. Directories of national information sources related to handicapping conditions, published initially by the Clearinghouse on the Handicapped, have been updated by Harold Russell Associates and are currently being updated again. Among privately sponsored publications contributing to the information dissemination efforts are: the Rehabilitation Gazette, Disabled USA, and the Annual Review of Rehabilitation which evolved from a series of state-of-the-art monographs known as Emerging Issues in Rehabilitation (Backer, 1986). The Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin summarized in a special issue the research utilization activities in 1975.         

 

Research utilization conferences, at least in regions such as Rehabilitation Services Administration Region 3, became an annual event. These conferences were known as the Regional Rehabilitation Research Institutes in Research Utilization and featured selected research topics. Researchers summarized their findings for administrators, supervisors, and trainers from the rehabilitation service delivery system who attended the conferences. Teleconferences enabled national audiences to participate simultaneously in learning about new developments without having to travel beyond their communities.          

 

A feasibility study recommended the establishment of a National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) which collects, stores, retrieves, and disseminates REHABDATA, much of which comes from federally sponsored research. REHABDATA today is available by computer through a telephone line, in person, or by mail. In its initial conception its target audiences were researchers, policymakers, administrators, and practitioners. Later people with disabilities became a prime target group. ABLEDATA is a related electronic data base and information center that focuses on technology, adaptive devices useful for improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. While it began under the NARIC umbrella, it has since become a separately funded NIDRR program. The President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped sponsors a related database of job accommodations using technology, adaptive devices, and other forms of job modifications. It is known as JAN and initially targeted employers.        

 

The National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials, sponsored by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, became a repository for training materials such as course outlines, curricula, and audiovisual aids.          

 

Most of the grants funded by NIDRR (whether these be related to Research and Training Centers, Rehabilitation Engineering Centers, Research and Demonstration, Field Initiated Research, Innovation) are expected to have a dissemination component. Many of the researchers disseminate their findings through journal articles, conference presentations or exhibits, and reports for distribution themselves or through the national information centers. Some have developed films and videos or provided technical assistance consultation (Backer, 1986). Today some research grants and fellowships focus only on knowledge dissemination and utilization.         

 

D. Technology transfer         

 

In the seventies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sought ways to apply its scientific findings to the benefit of people with disabilities. They explored with selected researchers and research utilization specialists ways to best transfer their technology to the rehabilitation field.          

 

The Rehabilitation Engineering Centers, in conjunction with their professional association the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA) and the National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (NARRTC), have explored issues surrounding transferring technology. Among the problems identified in technology transfer are the expense of the devices, potential outdatedness due to lags in patenting, producing and distributing the devices, and the small market size that limits its appeal to potential manufacturers and marketers of adaptive devices. The Rehabilitation Engineering Centers helped identify the need for ABLEDATA to help them stay abreast of new devices for differing disabling conditions.     

 

E. Regional Information Exchange (RIE) Projects

 

After the funding of Research Utilization Laboratories and Research Utilization Specialists with subsequent utilization project evaluations, leaders of the utilization efforts explored new directions. They were impressed with the successes of the National Diffusion Network in the Department of Education and decided to investigate elements of this approach for rehabilitation beginning on a regional level. The successful identification and diffusion of exemplary practices by the Regional Rehabilitation Exchange Program in Texas led to the funding of several similar programs. Each Regional Information Exchange has its panel of reviewers of potentially exemplary programs. They identify the criteria and select exemplary programs to promote and apply in other locations. The RIEs help interested organizations in their respective regions to become aware of exemplary practices, interact with those practices when needed, and implement them with or without adaptations.  

 

One exemplary practice identified and funded for utilization, though not directly under one of the Regional Information Exchange Projects, came from Georgia. Their Management Control Project was pilot tested in three state agencies and subsequently selected and promoted for use by other states. More than thirteen states had adopted that system either fully or partially by 1986 and more are adopting it even in 1991. Federal funds helped assure the resources--financial, physical, and human--necessary to make utilization a success.           

 

F. International programs Two NIDRR sponsored international programs promote cross cultural information exchange on rehabilitation problems. The programs are known as the International Exchange of Experts and Information in Rehabilitation and are currently located on the East and West Coasts of the United States of America. The programs offer fellowships, publish and disseminate field study reports or monographs, sponsor seminars, and conduct other areas of international development. The World Institute on Disability that coordinates the West Coast program is operated by persons with disabilities and is considered a public policy center promoting the use of research, public education, training and model program development as a way to create a more accessible and supportive society. They work closely with Rehabilitation International, the federation of 120 disability organizations in 80 countries.           

 

G. State-of-the-art studies    

 

A NARIC spin-off group known as DATA Institute facilitated the development of more than forty Rehabilitation Research Reviews to summarize the knowledge gathered to that date on disability and rehabilitation topics. These reviews were an outgrowth of recommendations by Reynolds and Vachon in their 1980 report to the newly created National Institute on Handicapped Research.           

 

H. Phases of rehabilitation utilization activities      

 

Backer (1986:56) divided the timelines of federally-funded utilization activities in rehabilitation into the early phase, phase 1, and phase 2 (see chart following). He defines the early phase as 1955-1968 during which time key people such as William Usdane, Mary Switzer, and Everett Rogers and key organizations such as Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, National Council of Rehabilitation Educators, and the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration laid the ground work for the kinds of activities launched in the seventies and the eighties. That ground work includes emphasis on applied research, the funding of demonstration projects, and the development of a research utilization taskforce with a subsequent conference and designing of a formal research utilization program. He also includes in this phase a research fellowship on information retrieval by Neil Dumas and a white paper on training of Research Utilization Specialists.      Backer dates Phase 1 from 1969 to 1979. That phase features the National Research Utilization Specialist Demonstration Program and Research Utilization Laboratories. It includes the RULE Project that brought potential users into the research setting to see demonstrations and the Visiting Consultant Project that took the demonstrations to the potential user. It includes the projects evaluating utilization efforts. Evaluations of research utilization practices in the rehabilitation field referenced by Backer (1986) included those by Glaser and Backer from 1972 to 1975, by the National Institute for Advanced Studies from 1977 to 1979, by the U. S. Department of Labor examining practices in four federal agencies (date not given), and by Havelock in collaboration with Glaser, Lippitt, Markowitz, Ramirez, and Rogers (1974). These seventies studies set the stage for research utilization directions in the eighties.

 

 Phase 1 also included the beginnings of the SRS Research Information System, SRS Research Utilization Guidelines, a feasibility study for and the eventual establishment of the National Rehabilitation Information Center. In addition, research utilization efforts launced key research utilization conferences and the Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin devoted a special issue to research utilization.      

 

Phase II beginning in 1980, according to Backer, is marked by an emphasis on best practices in utilization. Georgia's Management Control Project and its spread to more than thirteen states was an excellent example of the best practices concept. Regionalized approaches to information exchange also mark this phase. Studies such as one conducted by Harold Russell Associates add knowledge on how far the rehabilitation field (and society) has come and has yet to go in addressing the needs of people with disabilities. During this time period Switzer Fellowships in research utilization entered the picture of federally sponsored utilization efforts.   

 

Entering the nineties the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research had in place knowledge production and structuring through its array of Research and Training Centers, Research and Demonstration Projects, Field Initiated Research, Innovation Projects, the Business Innovation Projects, Fellowships, and Research Training and Career Development. It also has plans to set up consensus panels for integrating and legitimizing knowledge. To cover storage and distribution, NIDRR funds the National Rehabilitation Information Center with its REHABDATA (NARIC), ABLEDATA (products database online), and SERIES (an online bulletin board system for independent living centers). Its targeted dissemination and utilization efforts include the Regional Information Exchange Programs (RIE), the International Exchange of Experts and Information in Rehabilitation (cross cultural exchange progams), and REHAB BRIEFS (summary of selected research reports). NIDRR also funds technology creation and transfer through Rehabilitation Engineering Centers in conjunction with the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA) and state technical assistance grants.            

 

I. Challenges, strategies, unresolved issues           

 

Havelock and his collaborators (1974) identified the needs and limits to getting information to five different user categories. For policymakers, decisionmakers, or administrators with their busy schedules, they thought it important to provide compressed nuggets of information, well summarized and synthesized. For practitioners the authors said to provide information on how to do it or how to avoid doing it as well as what to do and what not to do. For clients they said:      

 

No known RU system can effectively reach ten million users directly. Furthermore, the types of knowledge transformations and derivations required to reach clients directly are sometimes the most expensive and most far removed from the oriiginal products of research. Hence, while it is appropriate to retain the concept of direct client service as a long term ideal objective, it is probably prudent to focus the attentions of a fledgling RU system on less ambitious targets (Havelock et al, 1974:4). For the general public they concluded "All they need is enough (a) to make them aware of problems and needs of their fellow citizens, and (b) to assure them that broadly speaking, existing and planned programs of R&D are working or not working"(Ibid, 5). For research and development workers the federal research utilization system needs to "serve as an important mediator and stimulator of linkages across this interface" (Ibid). They concluded that fundamental to the design of a workable cost-effective research utilization system was the importance of some users being conduits to other users because all users are not equal (Ibid). The prosumer approach recognizes the equal importance of each of these user categories and the conditions under which conduits may not be required.

 

Reynolds and Vachon in their 1980 recommendations for utilization in the newly established National Institute on Handicapped Research included "develop a system to provide disabled individuals with information about research progress and technological innovations, develop an effective information base of rehabilitation research and knowledge....related statistics" (Backer, 1986:52). Subsequently, the National Rehabilitation Information Center expanded its target audience to include people with disabilities as well as researchers who contributed the bulk of the information in that center. The Harris poll on disability, the reprinting of the Digest of Data on Persons with Disabilities, and the funding of studies related to statistics are a few of the ways NIDRR has begun to address the statistics on disability component.       

 

Backer (1986) in reviewing the state of the art in rehabilitation and special education identified four challenges of utilization. The challenges included the view that utilization requires change (which is hard), resources, and adopters who are convinced the innovation will work in their organizations and are aware of the innovative program or practice. The prosumer approach would help reduce the "hardness" of the change because potential users help identify the need for change, the methods for change, and the kinds of change to make.         

 

In the 1986 review Backer identified six key strategies for utilization. They encompass: interpersonal contact, planning and conceptual foresight, outside consultation on the change process, user-oriented transformation of information, individual and organizational championship, and potential user involvement. The prosumer approach incorporates most of these strategies.            

 

Unresolved issues in utilization, also identified by Backer (1986), included: (1) poor coordination of rehabilitation and special education utilization activities, (2) the adaptation of strategies from other fields without key success ingredients, (3) uneven support for the programs, (4) use of quick fixes without considering the larger issues of change, (5) omission of people with disabilities and family members in utilization activities, (6) too few training opportunities for professionals, policymakers, and consumers in the principles and strategies of utilization, (7) inadequate integration of private sector organizations into public sector utilization actitivities, (8) inadequate integration of employers into utilization activities, and (9) inadequate coordination of utilization activities with policymaking activities in rehabilitation and special education. Many of these unresolved issues are addressed in the prosumer approach.   

 

J. Signs pointing to change   

 

Emener spoke at a 1986 National Education Forum sponsored by the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials and others. Echoing Engstrom's systems theme to express the relationship between research and utilization efforts, he said: "The system, the big system (rehabilitation services, agencies, practice, education, and research, among others) has to build research into the heart, the blood stream, the infrastructure of the system" (NCRTM, 1986:19).            

 

Of the five priorities to be addressed under a knowledge dissemination and utilization project sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in 1988 to 1991, four had direct implications for consumers. One involves training consumers in information access and training consumer organizations in outreach strategies. Historically, consumer use of research findings and technology has usually filtered down indirectly to them through service providers. Yet this project was designed with the ultimate benefactor in mind. Perhaps this is pointing the way to the utilization studies and practices in the nineties, ones characterized by an integration of all individuals involved in the rehabilitation process and a fading of the lines of demarcation among them.

 

SUMMARY:

 

This chapter has looked historically at the dissemination and utilization efforts by rehabilitation and educational programs under the federal Department of Education. They include a wide range of approaches: information centers using electronic databases and linked to bibliographic retrieval systems; research summaries, reviews, briefs, and directories; state capacity building programs and local problem solving programs; research utilization specialists, research utilization laboratories, regional information exchange programs, technology exchange, and international exchange. What is not yet included but envisioned are consensus panels. Klein, Gwaltney, and Payer (1990) summarized the kinds of dissemination efforts as proactive, reactive, and interactive or utilization to achieve change in attitudes or behaviors.        Some of the barriers to utilization that Rogers identified in 1966 still prevail today: (l) separation between innovation and potential users, (2) professionals are the focal point for introduction, (3) innovation decision is likely to be forced rather than optional and collective rather than individual, and (4) the closure orientation of personnel in the field diverts attention away from innovation considerations. The prosumer approach can help break down many of those barriers.

 

A LOOK AHEAD:    

 

The next chapter describes the studies on factors related to research outputs and potential users. It highlights the ambiguities that have emerged in studies of factors and the interrelatedness of them.  

Chapter 2                     Chapter 4