Functional Collaboration in Housing Research

A cycle of functional specialties: a framework for collaborative creativity

This book presents a new approach to housing research, one that is relevant to all the social sciences.

Drawing on the work of renowned Canadian methodologist, philosopher, theologian and economist, Bernard Lonergan (1904–1984), the book outlines a framework for collaborative research: Functional Collaboration. This new form of collaboration divides up the work of housing research into functional specialties.

These functional specialties distinguish eight inter-related questions that arise in the process of moving from the current housing situation through to providing practical advice to decision-makers. To answer each question a different method is required. Making progress in housing is the result of finding new answers to this complete set of eight inter-related questions.

This approach to collaboration opens up a new discourse on method in housing and social research as well as new debates on progress and the nature of science.

For further details see Making Progress in Housing on this website.

This article is a comment on Mark Stephen’s article, “How housing systems are changing and why: a critique of Kemeny’s theory of housing regimes”, in this issue of Housing, Theory and Society. It distinguishes between three types of linked explanations – an explanatory definition of a housing system; an historical explanation of how a housing system develops; and, a critical explanation which critiques the use and abuse of power. These distinctions are necessary if we are develop an adequate understanding of how housing systems work.

The article then expands on first type of explanation as one which seeks to develop an integrated comprehensive heuristic and notes that the theory of housing-welfare regimes focuses on one particular technological aspect (tenure) of the housing system.

Finally, in response to Mark Stephen’s note that “one of the most enduring challenges in housing studies” is to understand “how housing systems function and change”, the article concludes by summarily expanding this single challenge into eight enduring challenges in housing studies by distinguishing different stages in both research and implementation.

Researching Housing in a Global Context: New Directions in Some Critical Issues, Housing, Theory and Society, 33(4), pp.403-423 (2016)
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Housing varies from society to society. As researchers, we seek to understand these various housing systems and their relations to broader economic, societal and global trends; we seek to identify the interests that drive housing, learn from successful innovations and propose practical innovations. The adequacy of our results depends upon the adequacy of our methods.

This paper argues that current methods are no longer adequate to the task of dealing with the complexity of housing in a global context. It examines four critical issues:

  • theory,
  • interdisciplinarity,
  • a scientific approach, and
  • making progress through collaboration.

In doing so, it proposes a new approach to these issues. It also introduces a new framework for collaborative creativity, Functional Collaboration. This is a set of eight methods that integrates the diversity of current methods. It is a scientific, collaborative, cyclical and global approach oriented to progress in housing.

Housing policies in and on the mode of the sixth functional specialty, in P Brown and J Duffy (eds), Seeding Global Collaboration, Axial Publishing, Vancouver, pp.129-148 (2016)
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Seeding Global Collaboration ventures on a new unexplored path. It strives to illustrate and illuminate from various angles a profoundly innovative idea. That idea—a supremely practical but little-noticed idea—is functional collaboration. These essays collectively advance the claim that functional collaboration is the much-needed form for an efficient and productive division of contemporary academic and scientific labour, a method on the level of our times and proportionate to the complexity and breadth of modern modes of inquiry.

Like other chapters in the book, this chapter is a preliminary effort in a particular functional specialty in some specific context, together with an attempt to envision how the results of that functional effort might be handed on to the next specialty in the series, all cumulatively illustrating the functional specialties as constituent components of the broader and deeper method of functional collaboration limned so brilliantly and compactly by Lonergan. But this sketch falls far short of a fully-fledged intimation of that method; it is a manifestly inadequate version of the more complex and profound idea articulated by Lonergan, a beta version in search of better versions.

More specifically, this chapter uses housing as a case study to attempt the functional specialty, policies. I identify various dimensions of housing, including environmental, technological, economic, political, cultural, and religious dimensions. But I note that one pervasive context for the mess in housing policies may be found in dominant dynamics – themselves the results of past policies – of wealth accumulation or profit maximization. Drawing upon an analogy with the team of Dr. House, who bring an increasing and so changing understanding of various systems and sub-systems to any diagnostic situation, I claim that the disease of housing lies within one sub-system among a number of sub-sub-systems. A collaborative treatment would include a foundational decision to appropriate and implement explanatory definition, to integrate diverse disciplines and diverse methods used in housing research, and to implement a new heuristic of the economy. Foundational fantasy would speculate on what might emerge from an appreciation of human capacity to understand, to create, and to dwell, to be fully in the world.

Researching social housing in a global context, European Network for Housing Research Conference (ENHR 2014), ‘Beyond Globalisation: Remaking housing policy in a complex world’, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1 – 4 July 2014, 17 pages
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See the article above for the final version of this ENHR Conference paper and a summary of its content.

Seeding global collaboration: Housing policies in and on the mode of the sixth functional specialty, 6th International Lonergan Conference, ‘Functional Collaboration in the Academy: Advancing Bernard Lonergan’s Central Achievement’, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25 July 2014, 14 pages
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See the book chapter above for the final version of this International Lonergan Conference paper and a summary of its content.

From theory to practice: a new understanding and doing of social science, Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated (ACSPRI) Social Science Methodology Conference, Canberra, 7 – 10 December 2014, 15 pages plus 11 pages slides
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Decision-makers, whether governments, organisations or individuals, often turn to social science for practical advice on how to resolve difficult and complex issues. Yet within social science the relationship between research and policy or between theory and practice is tenuous.

In an endeavour to deal with the complexity of our sociality, social science has specialised and has developed a diversity of disciplines (such as economics, politics, sociology, cultural studies and geography), a diversity of methods (such as quantitative, qualitative, theoretical, historical, evaluative, critical, comparative, policy analysis and development, and strategic) and a diversity of approaches (such as positivist, constructionist, realist and phenomenological). This diversity, however, has made collaboration very difficult and has further complicated the resolution of difficult and complex social issues: from whom should decision-makers take advice? what advice is relevant to resolving particular issues?

This paper proposes a new framework for collaboration in the social sciences, Functional Collaboration. By considering the process by which we go from the current social situation to implementing something new, Functional Collaboration reconfigures current disciplines, methods and approaches and integrates them within a unified framework. In this way it relates the diversity of disciplines, methods and approaches to one another giving each a specific role. Each discipline, method and approach can then make a specific contribution to this total process.

The paper proposes a new understanding and doing of science, one which is inclusive of the social sciences. Within the process of shifting from the current social situation to implementing something new, Functional Collaboration distinguishes eight stages that provide the grounds for a new form of specialisation and collaboration. Functional Collaboration seeks to promote a collaborative approach that is both cyclical and global. It addresses the complex problems that currently confront social research as it seeks to address the complex problems currently facing our society and provide practical advice to decision-makers.

Cyclic Functional Collaboration: a scientific approach to housing, 6th Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 8-10th February 2012, 18 pages
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Housing research is very diverse operating across many disciplines. It is characterised by a broad range of methods, approaches and purposes. It is also very fragmented with researchers having very little sense of how different types of research relate to one another. If we are to promote collaboration among researchers and find solutions to our pressing housing problems, we need a framework which will hold this diversity together. Housing research is about asking and answering questions. Few researchers, however, reflect upon the questions they ask and the type of answer their questions anticipate. This paper proposes ‘a framework for collaborative creativity’. It contends that if we examine the questions underpinning all these different research methods, we will find that each is primarily oriented towards answering a particular question within a group of eight questions. The paper proposes that a scientific approach to housing consists of asking a complete set of eight inter-related questions: an empirical question, a theoretical question, an historical question, an evaluative/critical question, a transformative question, a visionary/policy question, a strategic question and a practical question. These questions are functionally inter-related, they provide a framework for inter-disciplinary collaboration and, they are ongoing and cyclic producing cumulative and progressive results. Housing researchers can distinguish these eight questions by reflecting upon themselves and their work. The paper draws upon a discovery by Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian methodologist, philosopher, theologian and economist.

Cyclic functional collaboration: a scientific approach to housing, PhD thesis, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne
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The thesis argues that Cyclic Functional Collaboration as a scientific approach to housing could provide housing researchers with a framework for collaborative creativity that will relate and integrate disparate types of research and present decision-makers with practical advice on future directions for housing. Housing, as exemplified in the history of Australian social housing, is continually changing and continually presenting decision-makers with a series of problems that need to be resolved, as well as opportunities for future development. Housing research operates across many disciplines. It is characterised by a broad range of methods, epistemological and ontological approaches and purposes. As a result, it is very diverse and very fragmented with researchers having little sense of how different types of research relate to one another. For decision-makers, the problem is how to incorporate this disparate array of research into their decisions. If housing research is to find solutions to our pressing housing problems and provide practical advice to decision-makers, it must find a solution to its fragmentation, one which will relate and integrate this disparate array of research. The thesis proposes that Cyclic Functional Collaboration (as discovered by Bernard Lonergan, a Canadian methodologist, philosopher, theologian and economist) is a framework which could hold the diversity of housing research together. Housing research is about asking and answering questions. Very few researchers, however, reflect upon the questions they ask and the type of answer their questions anticipate. Through a phenomenology of housing research the thesis identifies a series of questions. This is complemented by an analysis of research on Australian social housing which identifies different genres whose orientation roughly corresponds with different questions. However, it notes how housing research, operating largely within a common-sense framework, muddles these questions. The thesis proposes that a scientific approach to housing would distinguish different types of questions and their anticipated answers. It would ask a complete set of eight questions: an empirical question, a theoretical question, a historical question, an evaluative/critical question, a transformative question, a visionary/policy question, a strategic question and a practical question. These questions are functionally inter-related, they provide a framework for interdisciplinary collaboration and they are ongoing and cyclic, producing cumulative and progressive results. The thesis sets out a more precise understanding of these questions, their anticipated answers and their relationships. It concludes by proposing a paradigm shift in our understanding of each genre of housing research.