Early Challenges and System Refinement
We initiated the grant with considerable enthusiasm under the watchful eye of Emily Cromar, our project officer, but our varied approaches conflicted. Richard Schiefelbusch became aware of the initial organizational problem and offered his usual helpful hand by suggesting that Todd Risley evaluate our progress. Risley put his finger on the issues immediately and said we needed a more systematic approach to develop a needs-based research and development system. Risley, in his effective, analytic, problem-solving mode, joined us as our second research director, and made other valued recommendations.
For example, Risley required us to fine tune consumer needs and to develop intervention products tested through our research and then disseminated rapidly to improve services. This was a novel concept in 1980 as much of any university’s research was based on researcher interest and resulted in journal articles or conference presentation. Today, our Needs-Based Research, Development, and Dissemination Model, involving a dynamic interplay between researchers and potential adopters, has become commonplace within most research projects and centers. One early use of this agenda-setting and organizing tool that involves consumers in shaping research questions and the survey instrument for later problem analysis and intervention, was with our "Common Concerns Report Method (CCRM)," that summarize issues identified by 12,834 disabled consumers from 10 states in the late 1980s and identified consumer-generated solutions to each issue. We continue to use the CCRM and presents results at public forums called “town hall” meetings to plan change in communities.
Another concept we pioneered and put into practice was the Junior Colleague Model in which talented graduate assistants enrolled in departments such as Counseling Psychology, Design, Educational Psychology, Human Development and Family Life, Public Administration, Special Education, Social Psychology, Social Welfare, and Women’s Studies were selected to work on a Center research team, beginning with routine data collection tasks and progressing to supervisory roles. At the highest level, graduate assistants also designed and submitted a research project to the management team for funding through the RTC/IL grant. This “two-fer” proved successful because the graduate assistant carried out the RTC/IL mission to a greater degree and the Center provided funding and opportunity to manage and conduct research. Still used today at the RTC/IL, this model has resulted in a number of graduate students becoming RTCIL staff after graduation who develop their own lines of IL research. Glen White, for example, the first scholarship recipient of the Independent Living Leadership Training Program, pursued a doctoral degree at the Department of Human Development and Family Life through the Center and became our training director, then research director, and now directs the Center.
Much of the RTC/IL management model was patterned after Schiefelbusch and his management style of making the most of an individual’s talents, interests, and opportunities to perform research and acquire research funds. The beauty of the model is that it enables researchers to be entrepreneurs within a major research university. Had it not been for this model, I doubt there would have ever been a RTC/IL.
In keeping with the Life Span Institute model, we used regular and informal meetings to plan, increase productivity, and assist staff. New staff attended weekly meetings, or “counseling sessions” as Schiefelbusch might say, where information was shared and problem-solving conducted. While we were not aware of what would be called Total Quality Management much later, we were doing it from the start with staff communicating openly across lines of authority to achieve objectives efficiently and functionally while constantly refining our overall systems.
Today, our management team and a research and training team facilitate the Center’s work. The management team, composed of the Center director, research director, and training director, financial officer, and associate director, meet regularly to plan, monitor progress, and oversee expenditures. The management team interacts on a regular basis with the larger research and training team, made up of project directors and staff who manage individual timelines and budgets, but also have the responsibility to improve overall systems.
Additional quality control comes from outside advisors. Initially external, input came from the RTC/IL Regional Advisory Council, Region VII Rehabilitation Services Administration office, Kansas IL center directors, site reviews, and national peer review team that were used to ensure needed and quality research, aid in the management of the Center, and provide a strong measure of accountability. The Regional Advisory Council and independent living center directors describe consumer needs, review research and training activities, recommend projects, and provide guidance for keeping programs relevant to independent living needs. The Council also serves to disseminate information about Center accomplishments. The Region VII RSA office assists with these functions and also works to coordinate Center activities with rehabilitation agencies, advises the Center on appointments and future directions, and shares current information from other research programs. Site teams and the national peer review team provide a close look at the Center’s organization, operation, and projects, and help us improve both the Center and its projects.
From the start, we have actively disseminated our research products with the goal of knowledge utilization. We initially used familiar methods (e.g., mail, in-service training, conference calls) as well as University of Kansas courses that began incorporating our research starting in 1982 and continue to be taught today such as ABS Independent Living and People with Disability. For product promotion, we sent periodic announcements, promotional brochures, press releases, and catalogs to particular target audiences. We also presented research findings and issue discussions of specific interest and importance to that field beginning in the spring of 1981 through our quarterly Independent Times (later the Independent Living Forum) newsletter.
This dissemination system has provided the means to disseminate well over a million products and even more through information technology such as the Internet via our online catalog and Research Information for Independent Living database. Our research also continues to be published in referred journals and presented at national professional conferences.
Although we have provided technical assistance in numerous ways, such as the train-the-trainer model, one of our most noteworthy methods was the National Conference on Independent Living initially organized by Gary Clark to further bring the state-of-the-art practices together in 1982. Through the years, national figures such as George H. Bush and Bella Abzug as well as IL leaders including Ed Roberts, Irvin Zola, and Marca Bristo were among the many presenters. Mike Jones, as the RRTC training director in 1983, oversaw future conferences based in Washington, DC, during the 1980s and worked diligently to provide accessible conferences. The National Council on Independent Living took over the leadership of this conference that served as a rallying point for passage of the Americans with Disability Act.