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A case study of some strategies and outcomes addressing the issue of 'equity': In-service organisation and evaluation

John Nash
Curriculum Services Branch
Department of Education, Queensland


Dilemma: A Planning Committee with No Plan?

The Queensland In-Service Education Committee (QINSEC) had been planning a central workshop on 'Equity' throughout 1984. In February a small group met to discuss whether or not to pursue such a venture. Further meetings were held throughout the year but the timing and detailed organisation of any workshop were postponed until 1985. Unresolved issues included:

What Involving a Sympathetic 'Outside' Observer Help Planning?

Commitment of members of the intersystemic planning committee to take in-service action related to Equity was never an issue. Their commitment was as strong as their perseverance but planning had become tiresome and a stalemate reached.

Two members of the planning committee simultaneously proposed that John Nash, then co-ordinator of Participation and Equity Program projects in Curriculum Services Branch, be approached to act as a 'critical friend' at planning meetings. The Principal Education Officer of Curriculum Services Branch agreed to a written request.

The critical friend attended his first QINSEC 'Equity' Workshop planning meeting in March 1985. He was asked to act as a process observer and to report on his observations during the meeting. Particular attention was to be paid to the planning group remaining on task and using the time available most efficiently and effectively.

The new 'observer' chose detailed note making as a strategy to record and reflect on discussion. During the note making, decisions were asterisked, and questions or clarification were added and highlighted by circling or drawing boxes around them. This technique facilitated ease of rapid questions at points during the debate when intrusion was judged to be most constructive by asking:

...'I'm not sure what you mean by'...
...'So far you seem to have decided to'...
At the end of the March meeting the observer was asked to list the decisions made. These were circulated prior to the following meeting.

The choice of detailed documentation was fortuitous. Planning Committee members decided that documenting the process and outcomes of meetings could have enabled more decisive planning in earlier meetings. At the same time the QINSEC Evaluation Committee was concerned to develop and disseminate information regarding strategies for formative evaluation in in-service planning.

Consequently the critical friend was asked to continue detailed documentation at all planning meetings and to write a report which would constitute a pilot study of formative evaluation.

How Did the Critical Friend's Role Develop?

The Secondary Division PEP In-Service Co-ordinator, acted as minutes secretary from the fourth meeting in April. This enabled the critical friend to focus more easily on both the substantive and process issues.

The decision to invite central support agency and school divisions staff to the 'workshop' increased the numbers from around 60 to 90. Some of these staff acted as group workshop facilitators but the 'workshop' had now become a 'conference' with representatives present who were not involved in PEP initiatives at a local school level in their day to day work.

At the last pre-conference planning meeting the critical friend was asked to document not only the planning of the conference but its implementation, to write a report about the planning, implementation and evaluation and to present a final session at the conference on Applying Participation and Equity Principles to In-Service Education.

So far eight pre-conference meetings had been attended between March and May 1985. The conference was held on 26-29 May. It was proposed that the critical friend circulate amongst the workshop groups at the conference, attend six planning committee meetings at the conference and the post-conference meeting of special interest group workshop leaders who had been asked to write workshop reports.

The critical friend's role had been broadened quite extensively. Written reports now include summative as well as formative evaluation. This would require a broader data base. The brief for the final session at the conference included the elaboration of principles which had guided, or should have guided the central conference planning and their modification for the development of regional follow-up conferences. The initial task of documenting the conference in planning had now been extended to writing a case study of the conference in planning and practice with guidelines for follow-up conferences.


What Manageable Data Base Would Match the New Purpose?

The case study reports were based on the following information: A variety of perspectives on conference planning and implementation were obtained from: The critical friend negotiated the context and format of the final reports with members of the planning committee. Conference participants' evaluation questionnaire responses were collated and sent in draft form to all Regional PEP Coordinators by early July 1985. The critical friend's address was published in PEP Lines in August 1985. Conference participants had photocopies of all draft workshop reports and the keynote speakers' addresses from the conference.

This provided an information base on which follow-up regional 'Equity' conferences could be designed. Several follow-up conferences occurred in 1985. Others were planned for 1986.

The final reports were intended to be generalisable to a wide range of in-service and community development activities beyond the Equity issue. The final report was to be of use to:

The data collated from the conference evaluation together with related suggestions for general in-service organisation and evaluation formed a bulky tome in its draft stage. The QINSEC 'Equity' Conference planning committee were happy that the information would be of practical use to the wide audience for which it was intended. The crucial questions was how to construct the final case study to make it coherent but easily accessible.


Why Consider Purpose and Audience?

Many evaluation and research reports have a very specific, limited audience who already know quite a lot about the issues or participated in the evaluation or research events and therefore have a personal interest.

The audience for this case study report was much broader than participants at the conference or those already involved intensely in the Participation and Equity Program as such. One of the major purposes of the publication was to reach a much wider audience with respect to strategies for in-service organisation and evaluation and the issue of increasing equity of outcomes for all students.

This wider audience was unlikely to read a 180 page report. Given the heavy demands on their time, they were more likely to browse through articles or booklets which seemed of interest, locate specific content of direct relevance to their work and focus of their particular needs and interests. How could the case study reports be structured and formatted so that this browsing approach to new information would be facilitated?

The QINSEC Equity Conference Planning Committee suggested a series of discrete but related booklets. The Special Interest Group Leaders' Reports and the Keynote Speakers' Addresses focussed predominately on the 'Equity' issue. It made sense to publish these separately.

The critical friend had collated the data from planning meetings and the conference participants' evaluation questionnaire responses in terms of the six key issues discussed in the final session.

These were:

This framework provided a consistent substantive and formatting structure to the first three booklets. Since the first two booklets were still quite lengthy (58 and 47 pages) captions at the top right hand corner of each page were used to help readers browse and quickly find information of interest. This technique was used in addition to the editor's double column A4 layout with frequent headings and sub-headings and short paragraphs. An index cross-referencing issues in all five booklets was included in each booklet as well as an extensive table of contents in booklet 2.

Since the booklets have only recently been distributed there has not been time to survey the effectiveness of these publishing strategies or the perceived usefulness of the reports to specific audiences.


  1. FROM PLANNING TO PRACTICE: SIX KEY ISSUES contains information on the background to the conference and its purpose, the 'critical friend's' description of planning meeting and analysis of the extent to which plans were put into practice. Six key issues in in-service planning are dealt with, and the conclusion provides some handy hints for conference organisers through a practical checklist.

  2. THE CONFERENCE IN PRACTICE provides conference participants' evaluation survey responses collated in terms of six key issues in in-service education which are also the basis of the structure of booklet 1 and discussed in detail in booklet 3.

  3. APPLYING PARTICIPATION AND EQUITY PRINCIPLES TO IN-SERVICE EDUCATION. This is an amended version of the 'critical friend's' address at the conference. It discusses the six key issues in in-service education chosen to structure booklets 1 and 2 of the case study evaluation in more detail. Appendix 1 provides one strategy for prioritising in-service education issues related to increasing Participation and Equity at a school, community or regional level.

    A detailed index is intended to make specific aspects of the booklets more accessible to readers. For example, if you are interested in students' responses to the evaluation survey, you can use the index to locate these quickly. If you are looking for the best methods of enabling conference participants to acquire knowledge, you can use this index to browse through the Sources of Knowledge sections in booklets 1 and 2.


    These addresses deal with the concept of 'Equity', the social implications of 'Equity' and the role of schooling and strategies for promoting an inclusive or democratic curriculum. In the context of other booklets they exemplify a particular approach to in-service organisation and evaluation.

  5. QINSEC EQUITY CONFERENCE MAY 1985: SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP LEADERS' REPORTS The sharing of participants' knowledge and views was a major focus at the conference. The conference was largely organised around workshop groups. Booklet 5 deals with reports from conference workshops. They exemplify a particular approach to in-service organisation and evaluation.


Many issues documented in the case study booklets have direct implications for in-service and community development organisation and evaluation in other contexts. The central Equity Conference was a large, complex and ambitious undertaking. What was learned from this conference could be applied to much smaller conferences, workshops and other in-service activities.

For example, the planning committee focussed mainly on two general goals:

Both these latter goals were seen by many participants as not having been well achieved. They also received much less detailed attention in planning meetings. Had both the general goals and specific aims been delineated early in planning sessions they would probably have been addressed more effectively.

The rank ordering of strategies used at the conference was:

The first three strategies received ratings much higher than the last six. While Special Interest Groups were highly valued, many participants felt that the group leaders received insufficient briefing and that the workshop guide sheets could have been improved.

Appropriate strategies will vary according to the purpose and audience of various in-service activities. What can be deduced from this particular case study are some of the necessary conditions upon which the strategies used depend for success.

Each group represented at the conference received high to very high ratings from all participants. The rank ordering was:

The perception of the value of having specific groups represented varied widely within this generally high rating.

Organisers section in Booklet 1 provides a check list which can be used by itself or in conjunction with the analysis of the six key issues for in-service and the detailed description of the conference in planning and practice.

Evaluation strategies most appropriate for particular activities also illuminated by the case study. The participants' questionnaire received a high response rate but some participants objected to being led through the questionnaire and others claimed that its incorporation into the final session biased responses.

A similar question can be raised regarding the role of the critical friend. Did the location of the critical friend in a central support agency influence, however subtly, the increase in non-school based participants at the conference?

Should the critical friend's role and strategies used at planning meetings have been negotiated and specified in much greater detail from the beginning? Would this have been possible? Does a more open, developing role lead to greater responsiveness to specific needs as they emerge?


The case study evaluation report has been sent to conference participants, all secondary schools, secondary departments, special schools, regional offices, regional QINSEC committees and through the Association of Independent Schools in Queensland (AISQ) to non-State schools in Queensland.

Limited additional copies may be available on request from:

John Nash
Curriculum Services Branch
Department of Education
P.O. Box 33
North Quay Q 4000.

Please cite as: Nash, J. (1986). A case study of some strategies and outcomes addressing the issue of 'equity': In-service organisation and evaluation. Queensland Researcher, 2(3), 24-34. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr2/nash.html

[ Contents Vol 2, 1986 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 17 Mar 2008. Last revision: 18 Mar 2013.
URL: http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr2/nash.html