Lorna Kerin is Director of Love Knowledge Consultancy in Dublin, Ireland
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I spent most of my childhood reading, so I imagined if I became a librarian I would get to curl up and read books in peace the whole time! I also loved to ask questions and to write so I later considered journalism. Being a social researcher is actually a perfect combination of both careers.
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
I majored in Social Research in my undergraduate BA in European Studies. The degree included a six month placement so I also gained initial field experience as a social research assistant on a project exploring homelessness and disability in rural Ireland with the National Rehabilitation Board in Dublin.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I got my first taste of ‘action research’ when I worked in Mary Immaculate College researching family literacy. I interviewed literacy experts, teachers and parents and worked with a video producer to create a literacy resource pack called ‘The road to reading’. We were delighted when this was distributed by the Department of Education to all national schools in Ireland!
Where did your career go next? What motivated that/those moves?
I wanted to find effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage that I was witnessing in deprived communities. I realised one way is to support children to heal from personal, familial and community trauma and to develop social and emotional resilience. So I subsequently trained as an Integrative Psychotherapist and then was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to Australia to focus my Masters training and research on engaging at risk children in Creative Arts Therapies.
I loved working with children as a therapist but in my practice- based research I found individual therapeutic outcomes were short-lived and often negatively influenced by the child’s peers, teachers, families and communities - it takes a village to raise a child! So I became interested in ‘what works’ in terms of systemic evidence based child and family intervention programmes and spent three years coordinating the evidence based programme ‘The Incredible Years’ in urban regeneration areas of Limerick. I then progressed onto researching other evidence informed childhood and parenting initiatives working with the National University of Maynooth and then with the National College of Ireland.
In 2011 I moved to Dublin City University (DCU) to coordinate a national participatory research collaboration that brought mental health service users and their families into dialogue circles with mental health service providers and community members to enhance knowledge and understanding about the lived experience of mental health and to explore how local services could be responsive to experience and needs. Our team was awarded the DCU’s Presidents annual Civic Engagement award for Community Impact for this project. I subsequently worked for some time in the University’s civic engagement office in the community seeking to coordinate knowledge exchange between academics and community organisations.
However universities as large institutions can move quite slowly whilst community and voluntary organisations often struggle to access timely, affordable, independent research to assess the needs of children and families and to access reliable evidence on how to best meet those needs. I therefore set up my independent social research consultancy called ‘Love Knowledge Consultancy’ in 2014 with the aim of providing evidence-informed action research and project development services to enhance child and family mental health and wellbeing. I’ve also started a part-time professional Doctorate in Childhood Studies’ at Queen’s University Belfast with a focus on participatory research with children and young people.
What has been your best professional moment?
I was absolutely delighted at the start of this year when the Irish Research Council announced funding for two research projects that I have collaboratively developed with academic and service user partners. The aim is to enable young adults with a rare genetic disorder called ‘22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome’ and their parents to have their voices heard about their mental health needs and service improvements.
Like many researchers no doubt, I have been very disappointed when research that I have invested significant time and energy into has not been published or when the research recommendations have not been acted upon. This can also be disempowering for the participants who entrust their data, their stories and their hopes for change to us. But the lesson I have learnt is that we need to proactively plan the dissemination stage in collaboration with stakeholders if we want our research to inform public services.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
I admire the high quality children’s rights-based participatory policy and research taking place in the Irish Department of Children and Youth Affairs and in the Centre for Children’s Rights in Queen’s University Belfast. I also appreciate an all island organisation in Ireland called the Centre For Effective Services that is actively bringing networks of researchers, policy makers and practitioners together to discuss the implementation of evidence in services and policies. It’s not enough to know ‘what works’ or to gather the evidence, we also need to understand ‘how to make it work’ or to implement it in the real world.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’ (Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist, 1901-1978)
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
If you want a career that offers you the opportunity to create compelling evidence that can improve people’s lives, do social research. It’s such a privilege to hear people’s stories, to identify their needs, to access the research evidence base and to merge all of that into clear recommendations for social change that may make a difference.