Stephen Fairbanks introduces the scope and objectives of Sistema Global Research:
Hi, my name is Stephen Fairbanks, and I am one of the research managers for Sistema Global. Today, I am going to take on a very large and very pertinent question to those involved in Sistema Global Research, namely “What is Research?”
First, let’s take a moment to talk about what might be meant when people invoke the almighty word of “research.” Oftentimes, it seems to mean that this-thing-being-described-as-research should be received with greater reverence, greater authority, or greater validity than what-we-might-call-ordinary-information. Perhaps, we could make the generalization that research is often portrayed as being the “real” truth about something.
Although that working definition seems to suffice in regards to the physical sciences, such a definition becomes quite problematic when talking about the arts, education, and sociocultural impact. Because the El Sistema movement exists in the overlapping worlds of these fields, we need to have a clear understanding of what we mean by research, especially if we are going to engage in research related to El Sistema and Sistema inspired programs.
So, what is research? Or more precisely, what do researchers mean when they describe their contributions as research? Let’s find out by examining a research document published by Sistema Global. In 2013, Andrea Creech headed a team of researchers, and their task was to seek out everything that had been written about El Sistema and El Sistema inspired programs, review that literature, and produce a document reporting upon what they found. As you know, that document is known as El Sistema and Sistema-Inspired programmes: A Literature Review of research, evaluation, and critical debates. It is available for download from the Sistema Global website (see http:sistemaglobal.org/literature-review).
The preface of that document states, “As is common practice, it’s the intent of this paper to report what’s been written about El Sistema and comment only to the extent of helping make that information accessible and useful.” In research traditions, the purpose of a literature review is to accumulate the existing literature on a given subject for the purpose of (1) developing a broader understanding of the subject matter, (2) discovering any contradictions within the existing literature, and (3) determining any underdeveloped areas that need further research. A literature review often serves as the catalyst for designing an empirical study.
Andrea’s team was thorough, desiring to be as comprehensive in their review as possible. Thus, they intentionally decided to include material that did not necessarily align with the views of Sistema Global. The preface to the literature review correspondingly observes, “This Review is an inclusive document and represents a wide range of perspectives; not necessarily the views of El Sistema leadership.” The literature review is ultimately strengthened by the way in which Andrea’s team incorporates counter-viewpoints. In fact, these critical debates become the basis for the team’s recommendations for further research.
Consistent with the example of Andrea’s research team, Sistema Global Research is committed to considering scholarship on El Sistema from a multiplicity of perspectives. Also consistent with the the example of Andrea’s team, Sistema Global Research has determined that it will take an inclusive approach to research, feeling that an important aspect of research is its ability to build on received wisdom, challenge prior knowledge, and develop new understandings.
As the Sistema Global Research Team, we look forward to the opportunity to assist Sistema Global in its stated goal of becoming “the most comprehensive online source of public El Sistema information.” We hope that these research efforts will influence, inform, and ultimately improve practice in the many El Sistema inspired programs throughout the world. By providing access to current research, it is hoped that Sistema Global will be able to assist and inspire leaders and teachers of El Sistema inspired programs to think deeply about what their work represents, allowing them to have an even greater impact upon the students they have dedicated their work to.