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Developing a Participatory Consultation Process for Quality Reviews: The initial stage of the European University Associations Quality Review of the Dublin Institute of Technology

Author - Aidan Kenny

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Quality reviews are now the norm for higher education providers in Europe. They provide valuable data for benchmarking, accountability and quality enhancement. The methodology utilized during these reviews is paramount to the process and the successful implementation of any recommendations. To this end the ENQA has developed a set of guideline proposals for quality reviews within the European higher education sector.

The DIT enthusiastically engaged in a current quality review process, proactively developing mechanisms to fulfil the criteria set down by the EUA. The DIT Steering Committee overseeing the review adopted best practice guidelines in both consultation procedures and code of ethics. Three overarching principles were inclusion, transparency and collegiality. A team-based structure was utilized to develop a multi-level consultation process that dovetailed both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The data gathering stage consisted of three procedures, empirical online surveys, focus groups sessions and submissions from faculty boards; this enabled triangulation of data during the analysis stage.

Information flow was central to establishing a readiness to engage in the consultation process, a dedicated website was constructed and updated regularly: email correspondences were sent to the ‘all-staff’ list (2,100 active addresses) and ‘all-student’ lists (16,500 active addresses). Face-to-face presentations were given to various committees totalling 278 staff members, and 71 participants from staff and stakeholder groups agreed to take part in focus group sessions.

The author as participant/researcher contends that the consultation process utilized was both dynamic and inclusive, and that the robust multi-method social research model operationalized to gather data fulfilled contemporary best practice, and that the procedures were scientifically rigorous. By applying this methodology throughout, the validity and reliability of the research design is enhanced.

From personal reflection on the work to date, the author would locate the theoretical framework utilized in the critical theory paradigm, with key indicators being collaborative nature of enquiry, critical reflection, participant/researcher, identifying issues and providing data for decision maker to plan and implement change. The operationalised process also parallels some of the main tenets of a complete cycle of action research such as: identify, plan, implement and evaluate. However, as stated previously, the development and roll-out of the consultation process was more informed by actual practice and the present reality of the context than by theoretical frameworks. However the ‘knowledge stock’ of the team and its dynamic rendered initial discussions on epistemology and ontology redundant as members' research ‘world views’ were implicit in their decisions and actions.


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