The first phenomenon table of the Equal Start for Everyone (Samalta viivalta) programme was a delve into the generational transition of poverty. The second debate strongly emphasised the inability of the Finnish service system to support immigrant families.

In spring 2021, Itla launched a three-year research and development programme to tackle poverty in families with children. The Equal Start for Everyone programme refines research data as a basis for decision-making, launches experiments and strengthens cooperation between researchers and actors in the subject area. In autumn, two phenomenon table discussions were organised in cooperation with Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), one for researchers and another one for professionals. The discussions are part of the Phenomenon Map method applied in the Equal Start for Everyone programme.

The first table of phenomenon delved into the generational transition of poverty by surveying what is known about the impact of family background on educational pathways – and what is not. There were ten scholars approaching the subjects from their own perspectives, whose dialogue opened up the complexities of the connection between family backgrounds and educational outcomes.

“The discussion identified essential research related questions and definitions for data synthesis”, says Tiina Ristikari, Director of Development at Itla.

For the purposes of data synthesis, three claims were crystallised during the debate:

The connection between family background and school performance as well as educational paths has been strengthened in Finland over the last 15 years.

The link between family background and school performance and educational paths is weaker in Finland than in analogue countries.

Finnish education together with the service system cannot adequately support the learning challenges related to family background. 

The second phenomenon table in December continued this discussion with professionals providing services for families with children. The inability of the Finnish service system to support immigrant families was strongly emphasised during the debate. There was also a debate about the inability to support vulnerable children at school. In addition, it was concluded that cooperation with parents does not always work. Professionals claim that pupil maintenance work may be overridden in cases where the families prove to be “too challenging” and a direct contact with child protection services might be needed in those cases. The debaters also claimed that multi-professional collaboration between services often turns out to be nothing more than a myth.

“The debate opened up a number of critical issues that research on the topic has yet to grasp. The discussion also proved that there is an increasing need for more dialogue between professionals and researchers in the future in order to identify key information needs and genuinely effective means of action”, says Aapo Hiilamo, Senior Researcher at Itla.

In spring 2022, the Samalta viivalta Phenomenon Table discussions will continue, in particular together with decision-makers. Based on the conversations, literature searches are conducted and data syntheses are compiled. In 2022 the first synthesis of the scientist’s phenomenon table will be published. 

What is a Phenomenon map?

The Phenomenon map is a method used in producing reliable evidence syntheses on complex topics corresponding user needs produced by Sofi, the Science Advice Initiative of Finland. Experts, researchers and other practitioners involved in relevant topics take part in the process of the Phenomenon map. The Phenomenon map is an entity consisting of parts that structure or present information about a phenomenon differently.

The process is structured as follows:

  • Formatting the question layout together with experts working on the topic.
  • Design and implementation of information retrieval.
  • Evidence syntheses work: classification of results, evaluation of the degree of evidence, writing, mapping of research gaps.
  • Formatting the proposals for measures.
  • Communication and interaction of results.

Source: Sofi

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