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Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR): Guide 2.0

Year of publication 2020

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In this article, the starting points of the theses of the BA degree programmes in the social services, health care and church community work as well as the guidelines and regulation regarding the topic choices will be examined.

In Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), the starting point of the theses in the social services, health care and church community work is that they develop the profession and the services of the field as well as customer work. The forms and processes of the theses may be different, but a common denominator is that the aim of the theses is to look for a solution for a question related to the profession and the service needs of customers.

Another essential starting point is that completing the thesis deepens the student’s professional knowledge and development. Completing the thesis offers an opportunity for the student to acquaint themself in with a topic which they find interesting and which will advance the profession and to delve into it in a versatile manner. With their thesis, the student expands and deepens the knowledge and skills required in the profession. In the thesis, the acquisition of knowledge and skills and the processes of critical reflection are combined, helping the student to become an expert in the field. During the thesis process, networks and companionships might be formed between the students and the professionals, helping the student find employment.

The aim of Diak is that the theses are related to the research, development and innovation processes of work life. The theses might be linked, for example, to surveys or reports in projects, or the development of services, the profession and customer work in the field based on them. At best, the theses will promote the focal points of the Diak strategy.

The Diak strategy for the years 2021–2030 emphasises change in oneself and the society. The aim of the change is a more human and sustainable world. Building a more human and sustainable world is wrapped in the development of the four focus areas of Diak. The focus areas are described as follows:

  • Underpinned by education
    •  We provide tools for building meaningful lives and high-quality work. We support sustainable living and wellbeing. We contribute to international networks of expertise.
  • Centred on new ethics
    •  We are committed to human encounters and interaction. We recognize suffering in the world and tackle social problems. We seek answers to ethical questions posed by new technologies and ways of working.
  • Powered by diversity
    • We work to increase social inclusion and integration. We promote religious and cultural literacy and mediation. We seek solutions to challenges in an increasingly complex world.
  • Driven by joint working and knowledge
    • We develop student-focused learning ecosystems and platforms nationally. We facilitate flexible learning paths and multimodal learning. We place importance on interpersonal skills..
The starting points of theses in the social services, health care and church community work

As the student begins to plan their thesis in the social services, health care and church community work, they must consider to which development needs of the society and profession the thesis corresponds. In a thesis in the social services, health care and church community work, it is important to promote the service system and the practices and methods of customer work related to the well-being and health of the citizens.

In the social services, health care and church community work, the emphasis has been on strengthening the involvement of citizens and clients in the development of services and work practices (e.g., Häyhtiö, 2017; Laitinen & Niskala, 2013; Pohjola, Kairala, Niskala & Lyly, 2017). Customers have experiences and unique knowledge of services and work practices. It is significant to listen to clients in different life situations and to enable their involvement in developing services and work practices so that they would better suit the needs of the service users. In the planning of the thesis, it must be evaluated if the clients have an opportunity to participate.

As you begin your thesis process, consider the following questions:

  • What do you find interesting in the topic and why?
  • What new professional qualifications will you gain from a thesis with this topic and how can it benefit you in your work life and career planning?
  • From the perspective of developing the profession, how is the topic relevant and for whom is it relevant?
  • What does it mean to be a part of the thesis process for the people and work community that participates?
  • To whom do you want to tell something new based on your thesis?
  • How do you plan to proceed when making the thesis, what research, development and innovation methods do you plan to use?

In the research and development of social services, health care and church community work as well as the services and customer work in the areas, the necessary competences include knowledge of systematic information acquisition and evaluating it critically. Knowledge includes research, development and innovation methods as well as information production required by R&D&I.

Criteria for a thesis in the social services

Universities of Applied Sciences have drafted a description of the knowledge areas of a BA of Social Services. The areas are 1) social ethical knowledge, 2) customer work knowledge, 3) knowledge of the service systems of the social services, 4) critical and participatory society knowledge, 5) research-based development and innovation knowledge and 6) community, leadership and entrepreneur knowledge. The areas form a complementing whole. (The Network for UAS Education in Social Services, 2016.)

Of the knowledge areas of the BA of Social services, the thesis is firmly attached to research-based development and innovation knowledge. Research-based development and innovation knowledge is apparent in the ability to plan, realise and evaluate research, development and innovation activities. (The Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences Arene, 2017, 10–12; Helminen et al., 2020; Näkki, 2016, 67–76; The Network for UAS Education in Social Services, 2016.)

Research-based development and innovation knowledge

A graduate with a BA of Social services

  • is capable of innovative problem solving and network work in the development of the social services
  • can develop the methods, work practices and service processes of customer work in a partnership-oriented manner
  • can plan, realise and evaluate development projects
  • can apply research and development methods in order to develop operating practices
  • can produce and evaluate information to increase well-being
  • can act according to the ethical practices and instructions of research and development work. (The Network for UAS Education in Social Services, 2016.)

In addition to research-based development and innovation knowledge, the thesis will promote for example the building of critical and participatory society knowledge. Critical and participatory society knowledge includes qualifications to research the structures and processes that threaten the social well-being of citizens and that cause inequality and poverty. Critical and participatory society knowledge further includes the readiness to report grievances for example to decision makers. (Arene, 2017, 10–12; Helminen et al., 2020; Näkki, 2016, 67–76 The Network for UAS Education in Social Services, 2016.)

In social services, the practical development work and related information production is highlighted (e.g., Muurinen, 2019; Satka et al., 2016). In the profession, the experimental development has been discussed (e.g., Muurinen, 2019; Poskela et al., 2015). The emphasis has been on developing the services of social services and the practices and methods of customer work in collaboration with the work life quarter and together with citizens and clients (e.g., Laitinen & Niskala, 2013; Forssén, Nyqvist & Raitanen, 2009; Toikko, 2012).

The BA of Social services provides the student with both broad and deep special knowledge of social services. In the degree programme, there are five alternative knowledge areas: early childhood education, child, adolescent and family nursing, mental health and substance abuse work, gerontological social work, social work with the disable and diversity and multicultural work. In the thesis, the student has the opportunity to deepen the professional special knowledge by choosing a thesis topic from these areas.

Developing special knowledge is also connected to completing professional qualifications, which are specifically required by law. In their thesis, the student completing the BA of Social services must take into account the legislation regarding competences. If the student chooses early childhood education as part of their degree, the degree must include at least 60 credits of early childhood education studies and social pedagogy studies (L 540/2018, 27. §). These studies include a 15-credit thesis.

The criteria for a thesis in health care

The European Union directives 2005/36/EC and 2013/55/EU guide the education of a registered nurse, nurse-deacon and public health nurse (The European Commission, 2005; 2013). Furthermore, the law and regulation about health care professionals (L 559/1994; A 564/1994) and national competence requirements of a registered nurse (Silén-Lipponen and  Korhonen, 2020, Liite 3, s. 116–128) guide the competence acquired in the degree programme. Additionally, there are national requirements for the education of a public health nurse (Haarala, 2014).

The public health nurse competence requirements include Evidence-based operating, utilising research information and decision-making, Entrepreneurship and development and Quality control, where the competence requirements include, amongst other things, that a registered nurse and a public health nurse

  • is able to search for information in the most common databases of health sciences, can read and critically evaluate scientific publications
    • the use of the most common databases of health sciences
    • reading and critically evaluating scientific publications
  • participates in the quality control of nursing as a member of the work community
  • recognises the development and research topics of nursing
  • as part of the group, is able to participate in development, innovation and research projects
    • project management
    • innovation and quality improvement in nursing
    • research methods.

The competence requirements of a public health nurse include using evidence-based information in a thesis.

In health care, the thesis is included in a training in accordance with the directives. In the health care theses, it means the following:

1. All theses must be commissioned by the working life (see also Degree Regulations of the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, Section 22).

The working life commissioner may be a project of Diak, a partner of Diak or their project, a public or private working life quarter, an association, Diak as an organisation or a similar quarter. The working life quarter may be offered by the working life quarter itself or Diak or the student may make an agreement via the training period or working life contacts. The subject matter will be chosen co-operatively consulting with the working life quarter, students and the teachers guiding the thesis in Diak. The aim is that the process benefits the students as well as the commissioner and that the users, professionals and citizens are not objects of the activity but participants.

2. Theses completed in projects must be linked with nursing

According to the EU directive, in the training the student must learn “as part of a team and in direct contact with a healthy or sick individual and/or community, to organise, dispense and evaluate the required comprehensive nursing care, on the basis of the knowledge, skills and competences which they have acquired. The trainee nurse shall learn not only how to work in a team, but also how to lead a team and organise overall nursing care, including health education for individuals and small groups, within health institutes or in the community.”

In theses that are completed in projects, attention must be paid to the above-mentioned directive and consider what the significance of the thesis is for the nursing care and its development and/or the activities improving the health and well-being of an individual, a community or the population.

3. An agreement will be made on the thesis between the student, the client and Diak in which the client will be represented by a registered nurse (EU directive requires that the supervisor of the training must be a registered nurse). The agreement can be found on the Diak website, in “Forms”. 

In the Thesis agreement, there is a new row for health care: expert in the field of education *)

*) A registered nurse working for the client whose role is to act as the expert in the field of education in the supervising process of the thesis (EU directive requires that the supervisor of the training must be a registered nurse).

⇒ Thesis agreement form

4. Publishing the thesis in working life  

For more information, see the chapter “The thesis process of the Undergraduate degree”, subsection “Publishing the thesis and utilising the process and results”.  TÄTÄ EI OLE KÄÄNNETTY OPPAASEEN

Publishing the thesis and utilising the process and results

In health care, attention must be paid so that the working life representative, i.e., the supervisor of the thesis, takes part in the publication of the thesis (the thesis will be published in working life or the supervisor will participate in the Diak ceremony).

In addition to a thesis in health care, in their studies in the programme in public health care, public health nurse students complete a development assignment worth 5 credits. The purpose is to strengthen the development of professional knowledge as well as the work and profession of a public health care nurse (Haarala, 2014).

In Diak, this can be seen in the development and innovation course, in which the public health nurse

  • can apply the health care and well-being strategies in planning, organisation, evaluation and development of the promotion of health care work and health
  • can evaluate well-being and anticipatory information in developing the promotion of the work of a public health nurse and well-being
  • can develop the work of a public health nurse on their own initiative in an innovative manner while anticipating the needs of the society and working life
  • can evaluate effectiveness
  • can report and publish their development work
  • can develop their health communication skills

In the Health Care programme of Diak, the student can delve into one of the following nursing topics: caring for a critically ill and perioperative patient, mental health and substance abuse work, gerontological social work or child, adolescent and family nursing: advanced studies. In addition to the previously mentioned one, in the English nursing programme one can delve into advances in care: polyclinical care studies. Therefore, the student has the possibility to deepen their professional knowledge by choosing the topic of the thesis from the advanced section. For the students of the Health  care, Diaconal work programme, the topic choices are also regulated by the competence requirements of the church employee (see Criteria for a thesis in the church community work).

In the theses, achieving the national competence requirements of the registered nurses and public health nurses is evaluated.

Criteria for a thesis in the church community work

Theses included in the church community work of Diak must meet the criteria set for theses in social services, health care as well as the church community work. In their thesis, a student studying to become a deacon, youth worker or early childhood teachers must deepen their knowledge in social services and church-related professional knowledge. The thesis process for teachers in the early childhood education in the church is also determined by the qualification criteria for the BA in Social Services, Early Childhood Education and Care according to which the thesis has to be related to early childhood education theory and operating environment. The thesis of a deaconess also has to meet the requirements of a public health nurse.

In the church community work education, the thesis (15 credits) must be related to work in the church according to the qualification decision of the Church Board (Church Board, 2017/2020). To get the church employee qualification, the thesis must meet one of the following four criteria:

  1. The thesis topic is related to
  • the diaconal field in the BA of Social services, Diaconal work
  • the diaconal nursing field in the BA of Health care, Diaconal Work
  • the church education or youth work field in the BA of Social services, Christian Youth Work
  • the Christian early childhood education field in the BA of Social services, Christian Early Childhood Education
  1. In the thesis, there is a separate chapter in which the application of the thesis and its results in church-related work is considered.
  2. The church-related analysis or theological reflection is present in the whole thesis.
  3. In the thesis, there is a separate chapter in which the theme and results of the thesis are reflected theologically.

These criteria apply for all methods of completing a thesis, regardless of if one is focusing on research or development or if the thesis consists of smaller projects. Thesis topics meeting the first criterion can usually be found in researching the operation or development of a local church. For instance, the thesis may be about development projects in diaconal work or strengthening the participation of children, youth and families. Often interesting and concrete ideas for a thesis can be found during the training or in the OSKE. The Diak community workshops also offer opportunities for writing a thesis (Häkkinen, 2018). It is also possible to complete a thesis for instance as multidisciplinary co-operation by developing materials for diaconal education for confirmation schools together with the youth or examining the participation of children in the diaconal family work.

According to the second criterion, the church community work thesis can also primarily meet the needs of research and development in the social services and health care. One studying to become a deacon can, for instance, produce materials for encountering multicultural patients, and one studying to become an early childhood educator can examine the environmental education in the early childhood education, for example. The perspectives of the diaconal, church education, youth work or early childhood education fields must be present in the whole study starting with the idea. This should be demonstrated in a separate chapter. In a thesis focusing on research, this chapter can examine the application of the results in the work of a church. In a thesis focusing on development, the analysis can include an examination of how the expertise achieved in the thesis can be applied in church-related work.

Furthermore, the third and the fourth criteria are related to such church community work theses that meet the needs of the social services and health care. With these criteria, too, it is important that examining church-related work is present in the whole of the thesis.


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Jari Helminen, Satu Kajander-Unkuri ja Minna Valtonen 2020