This article discusses the starting points and principles of research, development and innovation (RDI) activities at the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), such as working life orientation. The article introduces the concept of participatory and research-based development.
Final theses and participation in development projects are part of an university of applied science’s regional influence and RDI activities. As RDI actors, universities of applied sciences promote regional competitiveness and innovation in working life. The research activities are pragmatic, applied and aim to meet the development needs of partners. They contribute to the development and well-being of the institution’s region. The proposal for the core funding models for universities and universities of applied sciences from 2021 onwards emphasizes strong RDI activities and diverse higher education as a force for change in society and the economic structure (Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences, 2015a , 2015b ; Suoranta & Ryynänen, 2014; ‘Mahdollistava ohjaus, resurssit ja rakenteet’ working group, 2018.)
In the context of universities of applied sciences, working life orientation means that the provided education meets the development needs of the Work life partners, and that planning, implementation and evaluation of teaching are conducted in cooperation with it. The task of the universities of applied sciences is to carry out research, development and innovation activities, as well as artistic activities that are beneficial to the education provided by the universities and that improve working life, regional development, and the economic structure of their region. In carrying out their tasks, universities of applied sciences must promote lifelong learning. (L 932/2014.) Working life relevance of the provided education is ensured with consistent cooperation and reliable partners from the working life. The students’ work-based learning is realized with assignments completed in cooperation with the working life, participation in development projects, thesis work, participation in study visits, work placements and internships, and by conducting, for example, interviews and surveys as part of the university’s research activities.
RDI activities and the associated participatory and research-based development are part of an university of applied science’s statutory task ( 932/2014 ; Keskitalo, 2015). Participatory development means the involvement, participation, cooperation and sense of community of students, those already in working life, teachers and researchers. Compatibility, inclusion, participation, influencing, doing things together, and democracy are key aspects (Isola et al., 2017).
The customers/clients, patients and residents are involved in the development process and the services are developed with them. Thus, the cooperation partners of Diak are different stakeholders and are composed of experts by experience as well as residents, customers and professionals involved in development process.
The various parties are equal partners, whose expertise is cumulative. Good connections to the working life organisations and service-user involvement ensure that the views of the service’s users are heard, and that they have an impact on structures with exclusionary features (Suoranta & Ryynänen, 2014). The impact is multiplied as the universities’ graduates continue their participatory and collaborative development work in their own workplaces (Gothóni & Kolkka, 2015).
Diak’s RDI activities are based on its values and the principles of sustainable development. The values are Christian love for others, social justice, open interaction, and high-quality and productive work. In accordance with these values, priority is given to regional, national and international development projects related to participation and health, and poverty and vulnerability. Ethical recommendations have been published for thesis writing in universities of applied sciences (Kettunen, Kärki, Näreaho & Päällysaho, 2020). The aim of the recommendations is to harmonize the thesis process of Finnish universities of applied sciences, to promote good scientific practice, to prevent academic fraud and to contribute to improving the quality of theses.
Diak conducts participatory and research-based development. These are co-development activities that improve working life and promote learning based on the common goals of Diak and its working life partners. At Diak, development work is based on participatory and working life–oriented research development supplemented with action research. (Keskitalo, 2015; Vuokila-Oikkonen & Hyväri, 2015; Pätynen, Vuokila-Oikkonen & Norontaus, 2016). Diak’s various publications provide information on participatory and working life–oriented research development, and the 2020 RDI Yearbook (Helminen, 2020) describes participatory working life–oriented research at Diak.
Participatory development is done in all Diak’s educational areas. Wondering, questioning, searching, retrieving information, critical thinking, shared expertise and producing new information are essential in learning (Hakkarainen, Lonka & Lipponen, 2004).
The implementation plans included in the core curriculum for degree programs in English and the core curricula of subsequent years enable students to achieve the competence objectives set out in the curriculum by participating in development activities in the working life organisations and different projects, and in other agreed work at all stages of their studies. This familiarises the students with the processes of research-based learning in practice. Students forming groups, peer support, and support and guidance from teachers and working life partners are key elements of research-based learning. (Koistinen, Näkki, Pyykkö & Valtonen, 2015.)
The success of operations based on participatory and research-based development and equal partnerships requires an innovative approach to partnership, expertise, learning, research, development and pedagogy. It also requires the courage and creativity to do things differently and to try out new things. During the development process, and thus learning, participants may have to put up with incompleteness and changing plans. The result can be successful learning even when the original goal is not achieved. Enhancement-led evaluation can be used to gain suggestions for improvement or to find a completely new way of approaching the common goal.
In church activities, these operations are conducted at events called Yhteisöpaja (community workshop). These events are used to launch projects aimed at strengthening the sense of community and church membership, and increasing volunteer activities, as well as making better use of existing opportunities. The community workshops have been established in different parts of Finland in cooperation with parishes and other local actors. The idea is that in community workshops, employees and volunteers as well as Diak’s students and teachers work together to find solutions to current challenges. Interaction, a participatory approach and the joint and local application of information are essential. (Valtonen, 2018.)
Participatory and research-based development consists of 1) anticipating and identifying the challenges present in working life and society and responding to them, and 2) research-based and developmental learning, which means selectively producing, experimenting with and evaluating new information and practices by working together.
Participatory and research-based development is implemented in the form of development projects in the working life and studies, reports, surveys and other projects. The results include changes in practices as well as new skills, operating models and methods for the use of Diak and the working life partners. Activities include publications, seminars, conferences and events.
Research- and development-based learning starts in the first semester of studies and deepens as the students’ progress. The student will be challenged to learn via critical and reflective thinking, which help the student to form an understanding of the society, their industry, future profession, service systems, and themselves as a professional. (Gothóni & Kolkka, 2015.)
At the beginning of the studies, the students are introduced to higher education in general, their selected field and future profession. This builds a basis for their professional identity. Central to this is social literacy, which is based on reflective professional skills. A development- and research-based relationship to working life and everyday life is essential. The students’ previously acquired competence is valuable capital to which new competence is added. New competence changes or strengthens previously acquired competence. (Kolkka, Leinonen and Lindroth, 2015; Airola, 2012).
Original article: Raili Gothóni, Marjo Kolkka, Susanna Hyväri ja Päivi Vuokila-Oikkonen 2016
Updated by Susanna Hyväri ja Päivi Vuokila-Oikkonen 2020