– creating a world to live in
University of Roskilde
In the last 10 years I have worked professionally with mentorship schemes. I have created concepts, recruited mentors, interviewed the people who wished to have a mentor, evaluated mentorships and mentorship schemes, arranged courses, workshops and conferences for mentors. The mentorship schemes I have worked with are schemes that have been initiated for so-called ‘vulnerable citizens’. Through the years as a professional I have increasingly wondered what happens with the people who get a mentor. What does the mentor relation lead to? That is my main motivation for exploring the inclusive mentor relation.
A couple of years ago I ran a course for volunteer mentors. To get the conversation going I decided to start the course with a question. Can you remember a person you have met in your life who has meant that your life in some way or other changed direction? They were to come back to the mentor colleagues and me and tell us about an informal mentor relation that had had an influence on their personal course of life. The following question from me as course leader revolved around what it was that had meant that this particular relation had had such a big significance for them. My intention was to direct the mentors towards how meaningful it is to work with practice stories. Stories about meaningful relations, whether they were informal or formal and arranged. Several of the mentors were of course doubtful, but the stories they provided were powerful. The reciprocal stories opened up for conversations about dilemmas and values. What is it that creates turning points in their lives? What role does the other person play? Because it is in reality difficult to come up with a clear definition of what a mentor
relation is, the stories provided by the mentors show that this type of relation is best understood as part of its own context.
My dissertation focuses on what I call inclusive mentoring. That is to say a particular development and empowerment orientated relation where mentor helps the recipient of the mentoring, the mentee, with clarifying and developing professional, personal and social competencies. In my view the mentor relation is a process where an informal transfer of knowledge, social capital and psychosocial support takes place. A knowledge which is perceived by the mentee as relevant in relation to the life situation and personal development he or she is in.
The question is how receiving a mentor reduces the mentee’s risk of marginalisation and exclusion. In my view marginalisation is characterised by being a fundamental process which in several ways limits the mentees opportunities for self-expression. This marginalisation concept, in conjunction with concepts such as inclusion, practice communities, trajectories of participation and supportive relations, forms part of the set of concepts of guidance that I present in my exploration of inclusive mentoring schemes.
Key research questions in the dissertation are:
1) What does the mentee get out of getting a mentor, 2) the question of what
kinds of processes mentor and mentee enter into and 3) how we can understand the different strategic and political interests that underlie offerings of inclusive mentoring schemes.
The mentoring schemes in employment programmes can be seen as an element in the development of a more inclusive and accommodating labour market. The intention is to secure, prevent and integrate. That is to provide security for employees that are at risk of being made redundant due to age, illness or the like. And to include unemployed who have difficulties getting into the labour market because of ethnicity, long-term unemployment, reduced ability to work or similar barriers. And to prevent accidents and wearing out through a strengthened work environment effort in such a way that as many people as possible maintain the full ability to work all their life.
It is my experience that there are holes in the research-based knowledge we have about inclusive mentorship schemes. A large number of evaluations and metastudies of evaluations exist, whereas actual qualitative studies are difficult to come across. My research is based on ethnographic, qualitative and interactive studies of inclusive mentorship schemes.
In my dissertation I refer to the collection of qualitative data as an interactive
working method. That is to say, an approach where I in addition to employing
traditional collection of semi structured interviews also expand the concept of
participating observation by experimenting with different data collection arenas. I choose to explore the inclusive mentor relations by carrying out a large number of ethnographic interviews. The core of this method is, in my view, to observe some of what people do, listen to what they say, and thereby seek to register, understand and later interpret dilemmas, paradoxes and complex connections.
In my field work I have carried out more than 50 interviews and arranged group interviews and workshops with mentees and mentors. It is not participant observation in the classical sense, but rather a extended field period where I arranged a number of dialogue arenas with informants and actors. My role in the field work varies between being a researcher and a process consultant. My professional past was an essential ballast for me in carrying out the field work, which took place over four years. My approach is inspired by the work method employed within practice and action research.
The core of the adaptive theoretical approach I have chosen in the dissertation is that this approach is both method and result of this method. I take as my starting point several pre-existing theories, (and) work with them and modify them through continuous interaction between my collected empirical data and the chosen theories. A central element in the adaptive theoretical approach is the use of guiding concepts, which in my analytic process is a connection between the collected empirical data and theoretical analysis. In this way I combine existing theoretical ideas and models that other researchers have already had in play. In this way I let myself be guided through the analytic process. Through the analytical process several of these concepts remain working terms. Others gain a central meaning and become part of the perspectives that my analysis points toward.
The central concepts of guidance in my analysis are: (1) personal and societal trajectories of participation, (2) supporting- appreciating relations and (3) social inclusion.
What I see is that, by going into the mentor relation, the mentee enters a new
landscape. In my research I turn my focus on the roads he or she follows into
the new landscapes. The mentee sees him- or herself in this landscape, in a social world, in a personal trajectory of participation. In the landscape that the mentee enters together with the mentor new roads will appear new perspectives and new avenues for action. In the big landscape, in the societal trajectory of participation, the way is gradually paved for enabling the mentee to move away from excluding and marginalising positions. The focus in my analysis is based on my interpretation of the road mentor and mentee walk together and what results from it. The road the mentee follows to get back in the game.
The central part of my analysis is based on 16 ‘practice stories’ (narratives). These stories are based on interviews with mentors and mentees over time. In this way I gain a broad knowledge on what happens with the relation across social contexts. In the research process it turned out that I needed to understand concrete, particular situations in and surrounding the relation between mentor and mentee. The practice stories are an integrated and inseparable part of my ethnographic approach. The practice stories are stories about what happens with the mentee in the context he or she is a part of. In this way it is my view that I get closer to the mentee’s self-knowledge and life sphere.
The work with a large amount of qualitative data has been made possible by using a so-called code based theory builder (Nvivo). While I collected the material I uploaded transcribed interviews, log book, summaries from the different interactive arenas, reports and other relevant theoretical texts. First I chose a coding scheme of the transcribed interviews and workshops which took as its starting point the concepts I had chosen beforehand. That is, a top-down coding scheme. Subsequently, I coded in an integrated work process where I coded top-down concurrently with bottom-up. That is to say both inspired by my chosen theories and from my informants’ statements. This coding strategy turned out to match my adaptive theoretical approach. The strength of this working method became evident in the openness and flexibility toward my empirical data. In this way the flexibility and creativity in the process was not blocked by a previously chosen theoretical framework.
The overall benefit of the inclusive mentor relation is that the mentee enters new positive communities of practice. The mentee thereby gets the opportunity to change direction in the short or the long term. The supporting-acknowledging attitude promotes authority and ability to act. On the personal trajectory of participation the turning points can show us something about what the mentees get out of entering the inclusive mentor relation. In the space that is created between mentor and mentee renewed continuity in everyday life is created. Things are put into their right place on the personal trajectory of participation. Some mentees feel appreciated and acknowledged for the resources they possess.
Inclusive mentor relations produce positive psychosocial capital in the widest
sense. The mentees have the opportunity in the inclusive mentor relation to express both positive and negative feelings. Through the mentee’s stories mentor has opportunities to create a space for flexibility and to help the mentee manoeuvre in particularly difficult situations. Particularly valuable relations open up for the mentee’s hidden resources, help with expressing new sides, and open up for the creation of a new identity. Manipulation or hidden agendas can destroy and lead to the production of negative social capital. Conversely, particularly valuable, open and trusting relations produce positive psychosocial added value and contributes towards preventing the exclusion and marginalisation of the mentee. Mentor contributes to facilitating this process.
The inclusive mentor relation aims towards giving authority to, developing and
freeing the mentee’s resources. Assisted by mentor the mentee is brought to a position that creates an opportunity for liberation from marginalising and excluding positions. The inclusive and empowerment facilitating attitude clearly rejects any type of manipulation. Because the relation is based on mutual respect and recognition, the mentee’s opportunities for meeting new positive and open communities of practice are possible. The mentee does not only participate in an individual process, but rather receives support in seeing him- or herself in a broader societal perspective and act from this perspective. The liberating element in the process consists in, with mentor’s help, conquering the right to take control over one’s own life, one’s own values, and the right to full membership of the community. The liberating element can be ambiguous, full of contrasts and complex. The ethical dimension is in essence about the way in which everyday ethics influence inclusive mentor relations. The mentoring is embedded in a social organisation and is subject to and must be based on the recognition of the mentee as an ethical and legal person. If the mentorship scheme is to contribute to this, it is of vital importance to transform the ideal to some principles for which values, ways of thinking and practices should be promoted in the mentorship, in the mentorship schemes and in the included political areas.
Ultimately, it is the mentor’s and mentee’s judgment in the specific situation which determines to what extent the practice in question can be considered ethically justifiable. The institutional judgment is, so to speak, the control that the organisational ways of thinking exert on mentor’s personal judgment. Is it possible to live up to the limitations that the organisational judgment puts on the mentorship and at the same time live up to the maintenance of the mentorship’s autonomy? The answer could be to create a space for dialogue where both mentors and, if possible, mentors and mentees together, reflect on the content of the relational ethics through practice learning.
Full version of P.hD. (in danish) here