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Alcohol, communities and researchers: theorizing the relationships in an unstable mixture.

A growing emphasis in recent years on community-based initiatives as a strategy for reducing alcohol problems has in turn stimulated attention toward the role of research associated with community action (Casswell and Gilmore 1989; Casswell and Stewart 1990; Giesbrecht, Conley et al. 1990; Giesbrecht and Ferris 1993; Bush 1997; Holder 1998a, 1998b; Casswell 2000; Holder 2000; Holmila 2001). Some observers have focused mainly on methodological and technical aspects of research related to community-based projects (e.g., Saltz 1988, 1997; Holmila 1995; Gruenewald 1997), while others have explored the challenges that inevitably arise from attempts to reconcile the interests and perspectives of researchers with those of community organizations and other stakeholders, a combination described by one observer (Room 1990) as an "unstable mixture" (Holmila 1997; Giesbrecht and Rankin 2000; Graham and Chandler-Coutts 2000). In none of these writings, however, do we find a developed, theoretically informed analysis of the relationship between researchers and other stakeholders, or of the contingencies that shape the impact of research on decision-making in these contexts.

In this paper I outline an attempt to fill this gap, in doing so drawing upon experiences in a number of settings in northern Australia where, in several small towns in recent years, local alcohol action groups have succeeded in having local restrictions placed upon liquor outlets as part of community-based initiatives to reduce alcohol-related harm (d'Abbs, Togni et al. 1996; Gray, Saggers et al. 1998; Walley and Trindall 1994; Douglas 1995, 1998; Togni 1997; d'Abbs and Togni 1998). These towns share several distinguishing features: they are remote, being several hundred or even several thousand kilometers from state capitals; have populations between 1,500 and 4,000 people, of whom a substantial proportion-between 30% and 70%--are indigenous, the remainder being, in the main, Caucasian settlers whose forebears colonized the regions concerned during the preceding 150 years. They are, in short, part of what is referred to in popular lore and tourist promotions as "outback Australia."

The method throughout is inductive: I advance a number of generalizations based on a limited number of cases of which I have some firsthand knowledge. The extent to which these observations and explanations apply to a wider range of settings is a matter for further testing. (While larger towns and cities obviously generate more complex social fields, one advantage of focusing on small towns such as these is that important processes and dynamics are often more visible than they might be in bigger settings.)

The paper begins with a vignette, a true tale recounted here in order to highlight aspects of the role of research and researchers that, I shall argue, are important but are overlooked in most contemporary analyses. These omissions are products of two shortcomings: (1) a failure to account reflexively for researchers' own practices and relationships with other stakeholders and (2) the use of a model of the community that fails to take adequate account of the powers and interests of key stakeholders. I then outline an alternative conceptual framework that, I argue, enables us to overcome these shortcomings. The framework is then used to identify important aspects of relationships between researchers and other stakeholders, and critical factors that shape the impact of research on decision-making.

Vignette: a tale of science, symbols and power

Brian Simpson (to give him an invented name) owns and runs one of the two pubs in a remote, sub-tropical town in northern Australia. Like his fellow licensee, he has watched a lot of changes in the 20 or so years he has lived here, as the mining companies that provided the original impetus for the town's creation in the 1930s moved away and local settlers cast around--with limited success-for alternative sources of revenue, such as tourism. Today the town hosts a population of around 3,400 people, upwards of 40% of whom are indigenous Australians. Like similar settlements in outback Australia, this one has a well-earned reputation for heavy drinking. But there's drinking and drinking. Among the non-indigenous residents, especially the males, a robust appetite for beer is a culturally healthy trait, but these same residents become outraged by the much more public displays of drinking and drunkenness by some of the town's indigenous residents.

Concern with indigenous drinking is not restricted to "whitefellas." For several years indigenous organizations in the town have been promoting measures to reduce the damage done by indigenous drinkers, not only to themselves but, even more so, to their countrymen and women. Partly for this reason, Brian has been compelled for the last six months to abide by an unusual set of restrictions on his hotel trading conditions. First, he has had to shut his front bar on what until now has been his busiest trading day--Thursdays. Second, he hasn't been allowed to sell take-away liquor at all on Thursdays or before 12 noon on any other day. Third, sales of wine in casks containing more than two liters have been prohibited, and sales of two-liter casks restricted to one cask per person per day. And there are other restrictions.

The restrictions were initially imposed by the state liquor licensing authority--following a series of community meetings--for a six-month trial period, during which both the impact on alcohol-related harm and the extent of community support and opposition were to be monitored by an independent team of evaluators--of whom I was one. Now, with the trial period over, a hearing is under way to enable the licensing authority to consider the findings of the evaluations and hear submissions from interested parties before deciding whether to revoke, modify, or retain the restrictions. The evaluation has presented evidence of significant change. Presentations for assault at the accident and emergency section of the local hospital are down by 21% compared with the same period in the preceding year. The total number of presentations for fractures, head injuries, injuries, laceration, and stab injuries has fallen by 26%. The number of police offenses recorded for assaults, criminal damage, unlawful entry and interfering with a motor vehicle has fallen by 14.5% compared with the previous year. The evaluation has also demonstrated that the restrictions have community support among both indigenous and non-indigenous residents. Overall, 58% of a random sample of respondents want the restrictions to remain in place (d'Abbs, Togni et al. 1996).

Brian, however, has some data that he claims point to a different conclusion, and he has sought leave to present it to the hearing. The data consist of several hundred single-page questionnaires in a cardboard box. It turns out that during the trial Brian composed the questionnaire and placed copies on the front bar of his own and his fellow licensee's hotel. It contains questions like "Do you agree with the ban on Thursday front bar sales?" Not surprisingly, most of those who filled it out opposed the restrictions--although we could not be sure just how many held this view, because no attempt has been made to analyze the data.

In response to Brian's request (which is granted), counsel representing one of the indigenous organizations has asked me to appear as a witness in order to give a critical assessment of the survey, based on my qualifications as a social science researcher. I agree to do so.

It isn't difficult to discredit the survey. I explain that the validity of an exercise of this nature depends upon a sampling procedure that warrants the findings being considered as representative of the relevant population, and upon a data-collection procedure that ensures that the questionnaires actually record the expressed views of sample members and have not been filled in by, say, somebody sitting in a back room. On both counts, I suggest, Brian's survey invites skepticism.

As I speak, I glance down from the witness box at the front row, where Brian and the other licensees sit. He glowers at me, and I cannot help but feel uncomfortable. Here I am, a professional researcher engaged in an artificial dialogue with a professional lawyer, drawing upon my command of a researcher's technical skills and vocabulary to demolish a clumsy attempt by a man who patently lacks comparable skills to beat us at our own game.

Brian has never attended a university. After emigrating to Australia from England, he made money by driving a truck, then bought a pub. However, at some point during this current protracted contest involving, among others, liquor retailers, liquor industry regulators, other government and private sector agencies, and community groups, he has come to realize that one kind of knowledge has privileged status--namely, knowledge that is or appears to be "scientific" and "statistical." Our evaluation report is replete with such symbols of authority: there are lots of tables, graphs and percentages in the text.

On the basis of his observation, Brian has made a tactical decision: Whereas he might have attempted to contest the evaluators' knowledge claims with counterclaims based on his own local understanding built up over some 25 years' residence in the community--a kind of knowledge not available to any of us as evaluators--he has elected instead to compete on our terrain by producing knowledge claims that bear the hallmarks of scientific research. The tactic, however, has failed, generating nothing more than a cardboard box full of unprocessed questionnaires.

This incident--in which only the name of the hotel owner is invented--is in many ways a petty one, but it encapsulates, I believe, issues that are far from petty. In attempting to conduct his own piece of research, Brian demonstrated that although he lacked the necessary technical skills, he had grasped very clearly the significance of the symbolic powers of "scientific" data. This is something that we as researchers are rather coy about; we like to tell ourselves and each other that the authority our reports carry derives from the intellectual force of our technical skills and analyses, rather than from symbolic or indeed any other dimensions of power. Power relationships are, as it were, airbrushed out. To conceal these relationships, however, is to misrepresent the part played by researchers in contexts such as this.

This is hardly a basis upon which to explore the role of research and relationships between researchers and other stakeholders. We need, instead, to begin by acknowledging what Brian, for all his limited technical skills, had intuitively grasped: In the politically contested terrain created by attempts to change liquor trading conditions at a local level, both the technical and the symbolic properties of scientific research are forms of cultural capital, which in turn can be seen as one of several types of capital deployed in order to promote sectional interests. Further, I shall argue that the relationship between research and policy decision-making-my primary topic--is determined by the capacity of various agencies to deploy these resources.

To explore and understand this relationship, we need to begin with a conceptual framework adequate to achieve at least two key purposes: first, that of enabling researchers to account reflexively for our/their own practice and relationships with other agencies, to locate ourselves in the picture rather than claim, by implication, some sort of idealized intellectual space in which we are outside of the powers of the political forces that influence everyone else; second, the framework must model the local community, not as some sort of reified, homogenous entity, but as an agglomeration of social institutions and networks, components of which are connected in complex ways into the larger, often shifting networks of relationships that make up our increasingly globalized world. The ramifying nature of these networks, and the multiple social and political levels at which actions occur, mean that conceptual frameworks based on the notion of the community as a system--even as an open, dynamic system--fail to capture important elements of the processes we need to understand. In place of such a framework, I draw on Bourdieu's concept of a social field to propose an alternative conceptualization of the social space generated by local community action (Bourdieu 1985).

Action, setting and social field

The social world, Bourdieu argues, is constituted of innumerable sites, which he conceptualizes as social fields, in which institutional and individual agents engage in struggles both to promote their secular interests and, more fundamentally, over the principles according to which the social field is to be categorized and described--that is to say, over the common-sense meanings to be attributed to events and actions (Bourdieu 1985). Thus, for example, an overt contest over whether or not to reduce bottle-shop trading hours is likely both to be informed by and in turn to inform deeper-level contests over, for example, the nature and causes (and possibly even the existence) of a local "alcohol problem," attributions of responsibility for drinking excessively (weakness of will; affliction by a disease; historical oppression, etc.), and the contours and boundaries of the local "community."

In pursuing their perceived interests, agents (or "social actors") deploy a variety of resources, which Bourdieu categorizes as forms of capital. Of these, the key forms for the purpose of modeling the social fields generated by the local alcohol action initiatives here under consideration are:

--Economic capital: as conventionally defined.

--Social capital: social connections and relationships.

--Political capital, which I define here in a narrow sense as statutory executive or legislative authority.

--Symbolic/cultural capital, which refers both to formal qualifications and training and to the less formalized but often subtly powerful capacity to display and manipulate symbols of status and authority--such as an accent of distinction, a rich vocabulary, or simply "style."

The initiation of some sort of local action to define local alcohol problems as a community problem--rather than as a problem involving particular individuals--poses a challenge not only to the economic interests of those with a vested interest in selling alcohol, but also to prevailing commonsense definitions of the very nature of alcohol problems, according to which alcoholic beverages are a regulated, legal commodity, and individuals who either inflict alcohol-related harm on others (e.g., by drink-driving or assaulting someone) or who are themselves adversely affected by alcohol (e.g., by being assaulted) are seen primarily as individuals requiring attention by either the criminal justice system or the health system, or both.

In initiating local action, the group generates--in the terms being used here--a complex new social field, which involves a number of agents with an interest in the course of events. These include, besides liquor outlets and their customers, other commercial, administrative and regulatory bodies, as well as other bodies to which these in turn are either officially or unofficially linked. If, in the course of a community-initiated action unfolding, one or more parties engage a researcher (possibly as an evaluator), then the researcher in turn becomes an agent in the social field generated by the initial action.

Figure 1 depicts, in simplified terms, the social field generated by local actions in towns such as those informing this analysis.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Two domains are distinguished in Figure 1: an inner domain constituted of residents of the local community, and the local agencies implicated in the attempt to change licensing conditions, namely:

--The alcohol action group (AAG).

--Local liquor outlets.

--Local media.

--Local civic authority.

--Other local commercial interests.

--Other community groups.

--Local branches of government agencies, such as health, police, welfare, education.

Outside this domain are located a number of other agencies with an interest in the outcome of the community initiative and a capacity to pursue those interests. These are:

--The researcher/evaluator.

--The licensing authority.

--Other liquor industry interests (e.g., brewers; hotels association).

--Government agencies.

--Politicians.

Each of these agencies has certain interests at stake and certain resources. In Table 1 I have tried to summarize those interests of key stakeholders that are likely to be affected by community action around alcohol and the main resources available to them to pursue those interests.

Simplified though it is, Table 1 conveys some sense of the wide range of alcohol-related interests liable to be pursued at the local community level. The diversity of interests in turn generates a potential for complex patterns of coalition formation.

Any or all of the agencies depicted here have a potential stake in the research/policy nexus: They may wish to create and/or foster a nexus, or to destroy or simply influence an existing one. It is not possible here to explore all of these relationships, and it might in any case be difficult to advance generalizations with respect to all of them, given the permutations of interests and the alliances that are liable to come into play in any given context. We can, however, focus on four key sets of relationships involving researchers that, in my experience, are invariably important in shaping outcomes. These are the relationships between:

--Researchers and local residents.

--Researchers and the AAG.

--Researchers and local liquor outlets.

--Researchers and the liquor licensing authority (LLA).

Researchers and local residents

First, the relationship between researchers and local residents--that is, residents qua local residents, irrespective of any positions they may hold in the agencies depicted, such as the local municipal council. As an outsider, the researcher constructs the local community as an object of research, typically laying weight on epidemiological risk factors such as per capita alcohol consumption levels and prevalence of indicators of alcohol-related harm such as injury rates and road crashes; in doing so, he or she represents the community as a very different kind of object than the community that is experienced by most of these local residents in their day-to-day lives. Local residents, of course, don't experience their community as an amalgam of statistical indicators of harm, and the representation of it as one might well cause offense. What do these outsiders, for all their academic expertise, really know about our community? What right have they even to speak about our community? Does the credibility given to the researchers' account mean that our own knowledge about our community, based on many years of actually living here, counts for nothing? The fact that the analytical procedures used to construct the community as an object of research are likely to be opaque to many local residents--regardless of the diligence with which, in terms of a scientific research discourse, the researchers have described their methodology--only increases the likelihood of offense being taken.

At worst, these tensions might cause some local residents to try to repudiate either the researchers' accounts or the researchers' rights to make statements--or both. To the extent that they succeed--and they may of course find strategic support in the local media and from vested interests such as local licensees--they will undermine the legitimacy of the research findings as a rationale for policy decision-making.

It follows that the legitimacy accorded a piece of research locally (and possibly therefore, indirectly, by non-local agencies) is likely to be a function not so much of the methodological rigor or analytical sophistication displayed, but of the processes adopted by researchers in negotiating some sort of right to make statements about the community, and the relationships established by researchers with local residents. Some years ago, following the engagement of my colleagues and myself to evaluate some trial restrictions, we convened a public meeting with a view to encouraging residents to air their views on the nature of local alcohol-related problems, before we finalized our research design. The meeting was quite well attended; but while people were willing enough to engage in discussion about the issues we put to them, several of them also made it plain that they viewed our presence with cynicism because their community seemed to have become something of a social laboratory to which outsiders came, gathered all sorts of data about some social issue of interest to them, and then vanished. In response, we undertook that our findings would be presented at another public meeting even before they were made available to the LLA that had commissioned our research. That undertaking, I believe, helped to mollify at least some of the local concerns. However, on another occasion, in a town in Western Australia, I am aware that our own research was compared unfavorably by some local residents with a subsequent follow-up evaluation of liquor restrictions, in which the later research team adopted a number of methodologically questionable procedures but was more diligent than we had been in consulting informally with local residents.

Researchers and the alcohol action group

The second key relationship identified above is that between researchers and the AAG. Again, I suggest, this relationship is likely to be marked by tensions and ambivalence. Typically, the AAG wants research carried out as part of what Holmila has termed "problem construction" and "problem management" (Holmila 1997). At the same time, in cases with which I am familiar, the AAG has not had sufficient funds of its own to engage a researcher, so that it is forced to seek external funds, which in turn means that--to a greater or lesser degree--the researcher is likely to be beholden to the funding body as well as to the AAG itself. This is one potential cause of tension. Another concerns the degree of independence to be accorded to the researcher. The AAG is engaged in a political campaign, not a scientific project; it is not interested in generating knowledge for knowledge's sake, but in gathering ammunition for its campaign. Who, then, exercises control over what becomes of findings produced--especially of findings that might not suit the AAG? A third structurally built-in cause of potential tension, I suggest, is associated with the extent to which the researcher, as an independent actor, may wish to construct the AAG itself as an object of his/her research. This possibility arises from the fact that the researcher has her/his own professional interests, most obviously in publishing papers in refereed journals.

None of these tensions, in my experience, needs be incapacitating for either party, but the ways in which they are handled by both parties feeds into the relationship between research and decision-making.

Researchers and liquor outlets

The third relationship highlighted above is that between the researcher and local liquor outlets. This in turn is likely to be affected by the extent to which local liquor outlets have shared or competing interests. In the context of strongly competing intra-outlet relationships, it might well suit one or more outlets to form an alliance with researchers and to furnish them with data that other outlets are much more reluctant to reveal. Local licensees may also seek to exploit the outsider-local-resident tensions that I alluded to above and seek to depict researchers as arrogant "experts," full of theoretical knowledge but with no real understanding of local issues.

In general, research commissioned by either the AAG or the LLA will be viewed by local liquor outlets as a source of potential danger, warranting a strategic response. This is likely to take one or more of three forms: (1) decline to cooperate with the researchers; ignore the findings and hope that everyone else does the same; (2) attempt to discredit the research or the researchers, or both; (3) attempt to supplant the research with their own research. Of these, the first option is probably the riskiest, particularly as the agent that has commissioned the research has a vested interest in seeing that the findings are not ignored--unless, of course, it considers the findings embarrassing or worse to its cause, in which case the commissioning agent itself is likely to collude with others in suppressing the findings. In none of the instances with which I am familiar has this occurred; however, both of the other two options have been utilized.

In the Central Australian town of Alice Springs, a local alcohol action group--together with various allies--has attempted for several years to have local restrictions placed on liquor outlets, together with other harm-reduction measures. In year 2000 the local town council agreed to engage consultants to examine the nature and extent of alcohol problems in the town and the extent of community support for local restrictions on availability. The resulting report, titled--in what may well have been a counterproductively emotional tone--"Dollars Made From Broken Spirits," recommended a comprehensive program of change, including changes to the structure of the licensing commission (chiefly, indigenous representation on the commission), restrictions on trading conditions, and a moratorium on the issuance of new liquor licenses (Hauritz, McIlwain et al. 2000).

Not surprisingly, liquor industry interests and other opponents of restrictions were swift to respond, seizing on what they claimed were sampling flaws and analytical errors to denigrate the report, and mobilizing high-level political allies to destroy any policy-related weight it might have had. Thus, within weeks of the report's release, government members utilized the privileged forum of parliament to attack it. When an opposition member moved to criticize the government for failing to respond to the report's recommendations, one government member dismissed the report as having been "widely discredited," full of recommendations that had been "shown to be unsupportable, impossible to police, or simply too harsh" (Northern Territory Legislative Assembly 2001). The tactic worked: Alice Springs Town Council, whose elected members were in any case divided on the issue of restrictions, backed away from the report, making it clear that they would not attempt to use it as a basis for policy development.

One factor that shapes responses of local liquor outlets both to community attempts to impose restrictions and to research is the ownership structure of local outlets--in particular, the relative importance of locally owned enterprises on the one hand and, on the other, those that are managed on behalf of absentee owners or as part of major national chains. The latter, especially, are prone to be more focused on maximizing profits, less concerned with their standing in the local community, and more able to harness high-quality research to aid their cause than other outlets.

A few years ago, Woolworth's, a major supermarket chain, faced with restrictions on take-away sales of liquor in another Northern Territory town, engaged a Sydney-based consultant to conduct a phone survey of shoppers' attitudes toward the proposed restrictions and other possible restrictions. Woolworth's presumably expected that the survey would reveal widespread community opposition to the restrictions. Unfortunately for the sponsors, the survey demonstrated as much support as opposition for reduced trading hours.

Researchers and the liquor licensing authority

The most pivotal agency in determining the extent to which research enters into policy decision-making in this context is the liquor licensing authority (LLA), hence the importance of the fourth relationship specified above: that between researchers and the LLA. In Australia, responsibility for regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages rests with the second tier of government in the federal system: the governments of states and territories.

Aside from revenue-raising powers and control over customs and excise, the Commonwealth government exercises no role with respect to the regulation of liquor. However, as the driving force behind a National Competition Policy (NCP) introduced during the 1990s, it has initiated a process that is altering, and in some cases restricting, the power of authorities such as liquor licensing agencies to regulate activities in the marketplace. The third tier of government--municipal authorities--has virtually no role in the regulation of liquor sales in Australia today, except as one among several interested parties in decisions regarding local availability.

Each state and territory has a statutory liquor licensing authority governed by its own legislation. In some jurisdictions, administrative and judicial aspects are separated into an administrative liquor licensing agency that presides over applications for new licenses, transfers, etc., and a licensing court. In others, both functions are performed by a single statutory commission that operates as an independent statutory authority rather than as a government department--thus exercising, in theory, a degree of political independence.

In reality, the government of the day is one of three main sources from which the LLA is typically likely to experience pressures to act in certain directions, the other two being the liquor and hospitality industries (which may in turn speak with several competing voices) and community-based groups. In my experience, a priority for those administering LLAs is to maintain as much room as possible to maneuver in response to these pressures. This gives rise to an ambivalent relationship with researchers. On the one hand, research can provide empirical evidence and symbolic authority upon which to base decisions relating to contentious issues. Thus, on several occasions during the 1990s, the Northern Territory Liquor Commission invoked the independence and scientific probity of research findings in making decisions in contentious matters. For example, in January 1999 the chairman of the commission handed down his decision with respect to an evaluation of restrictions in the town of Tennant Creek. Before announcing the decision itself, he described its basis:

The Chairman advised all in attendance that the Commission's support, recognition of, or reliance on any element of the proposed evaluation was absolutely conditional on its being independent and scientific in its conduct and methodology.

Prior to the evaluation going to tender the Commission studied and was satisfied with the terms of reference. Prior to commencement of the evaluation, Dr David Atkinson, a member of the evaluation team and a co-author of its final report, met with the Chairman, who emphasised the standards to which the evaluation must be conducted in order for the Commission to rely on its findings.

The National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse conducted the evaluation. The Centre is located at the Curtin University of Technology. The Centre is funded by the National Drug Strategy. The evaluation was completed in August 1998 and copies of the final report provided to the Commission.

The Commission studied the evaluation report and is satisfied that it meets the standards demanded by the Chairman, at the meeting held 1 June, and at the Chairman's meeting with Dr David Atkinson referred to earlier in these reasons. In order to further satisfy itself that the completed report met appropriate standards of conduct and methodology the Commission, represented by the Chairman and Members Hardwick and Wyatt, met with and interviewed Associate Professor Dennis Gray, the principal author of the report. (Northern Territory Liquor Commission 1999)

On the other hand, once research has been commissioned, the LLA has limited control over what the research will find--and those findings might be inconvenient in light of other pressures being brought to bear on the LLA. In recent years the LLA in the Northern Territory has moved away from commissioning independent evaluation studies where local controversies have erupted in connection with local restrictions on alcohol availability, declaring instead a preference for gathering its own data and conducting its own consultation with community members in order to form its own assessment of the impact and popularity of measures. The results of these exercises lack the methodological rigor and transparency of sound research and the symbolic authority of "scientific" research, but they offer the attraction of allowing the LLA a high degree of control over the entire assessment process.

These, then, are some of the factors and forces at play in shaping the relationship between research and policy decision-making. The implication of my analysis, I suggest, is that this relationship is far more contingent, nuanced and unstable than is generally recognized. But we can, I think, draw four general propositions regarding the role of research its relationship with policy decision-making. I will conclude by outlining these propositions.

Research and policy: conclusions

The first proposition arises out of the nature of research. I have argued above that research has three attributes relevant to its usage in a social field of the kind discussed in this paper: (1) it conveys information, a valued resource in a contested domain such as this; (2) it carries symbolic authority as a scientific product in a political setting, and (3) (in this sense research is a double-edged sword) it can have the effect of delimiting options open to the agent that "owns" it. If the research findings point to certain conclusions, then it is difficult for the party promoting that research not to accept those conclusions. The implications that follow from these attributes are twofold: first, research will be commissioned only by parties who think the findings will be helpful to their interests; second, even these parties will normally seek to reduce the risk of their being bound by any findings that are damaging or inconvenient to them by building in some sort of arm's-length relationship with the researcher.

A second proposition derives from the prerequisites of research. In order to be able to utilize research to promote its interests, an agency must have not only a strategic interest in commissioning or conducting research, but also (1) access to the necessary financial and technical resources, and (2) the political capacity to utilize the research report in hearings and other fora. The licensee with whose situation I began this paper considered that he had a strategic interest in conducting his own research, but he patently lacked the technical skills to do so. Often groups that would like to gather data systematically lack either the financial or the technical skills to commission or conduct research. For example, some years ago in Central Australia an indigenous-women's organization, the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council, after several years of lobbying, succeeded in negotiating an agreement with the licensee of a roadside tavern under which the licensee restricted sales of alcohol to members of local indigenous communities for a trial period of 12 months. The NPY Women's Council then approached the licensing authority (the Northern Territory Liquor Commission) requesting that the impact of the trial be evaluated. The latter body, however, declined to either conduct or fund an evaluation. The Women's Council, faced with the prospect that the trial would come to an end leaving no empirical evidence of any effects, then sought funding from the Commonwealth government--this time with success. The Council then commissioned an evaluation that demonstrated that the restrictions had indeed led to a significant decline in alcohol-related problems (d'Abbs, Togni et al. 1999).

A third proposition is derived from the relationship between the researcher and local community residents. In the cases here under consideration, the researcher/evaluator is an "outsider" with respect to the community. At the least, local residents are likely to view the researcher's findings with suspicion, if not resentment, at the thought of an outsider coming in and making statements about a community in which they, as residents, may have lived for many years. At worst, locals may attempt to deny the right of the evaluator/researcher to speak about the community and/or may seek to discredit the research findings.

The fourth and final factor affecting the impact of research in this context arises from the response of parties who do not support the research or consider themselves potentially threatened by it. In recent instances in northern Australia, local liquor outlets, other local commercial interests, industry peak bodies and politicians have all employed measures to counteract existing or anticipated research findings. In principle, one or more of three options are open to such agents: first, they can simply ignore them and hope everyone else does the same; second, they can attempt to discredit the research; and third, they can attempt to supplant it with research of their own.

Does the model I have formulated provide an adequate basis for explaining outcomes in other kinds of settings? Probably not--at least not without further testing and refinement in other settings. But it does, I hope, enable us to begin to come to grips with what Giesbrecht and Ferris labeled the "tensions" that are bound to arise between differing research and community action "agendas" (Giesbrecht and Ferris 1993). In doing so, they contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the strengths and limitations of research and of its relationship to decisions arising from community initiatives.
TABLE 1
Agents, interest, and resources

Agent                  Interests relating or       Main resources
                       relating to community
                       action

Alcohol Action Group   * To mobilize community     * Social capital--
                         support sufficient to       netwoks;
                         bring about changes in    * Cultural capital--
                         conditions governing        education,
                         sale and consumption        professional
                         of alcohol;                 skills, experience
                       * To gain support of          in committees and
                         external regulatory         other fora.
                         authority--so  that
                         latter enforces or
                         ratifies changes.

Local liquor outlets   * To protect commercial     * Social capital--
                         interets (either            networks
                         individually or             (including links
                         collectively).              with peak industry
                                                     bodies);
                                                   * Economic capital
                                                     (some outlets
                                                     having much more
                                                     than others).

Researcher(s)          * To produce credible,      * Cultural capital--
                         independents reports        education,
                         thant address               professional
                         questions posed by          skills.
                         those responsible for
                         commissioning the
                         research;
                       * To have the
                         reseach accepted by
                         stakeholders;
                       * To maintain
                         professional standing
                         in wider research
                         community.

State liquor           * To maintain an            * Political capital:
licensing authority      orderly local liqour        legislative
market;                  market;                     authority and
                       * (Possibly) to               (variable)
                         minimize adverse            capacity to
                         health and public           enforce
                         order consequences          legislation;
                         of alcohol misuse;
                       * To pursue other           * Social capital--
                         objectuves laid down        networks;
                         in the relevant           * Cultural capital--
                         licensing legislation;      education,
                       * To maintain a positive      professional
                         relationship with the       skills.
                         government and its
                         agencies;
                       * To maintain a
                         workable relationship
                         with liquor industry
                         interests.

Local civic            * To promote social         * (Limited)
uthority                 cohesin and order           political
                         in the town;                capital--in the
                       * To support and promote      form of by-laws
                         economic activity in        and enabling
                         the town;                   legislation;
                       * To promote what it        * Social capital--
                         perceives to be the         strong local
                         interests of town's         networks.
                         ratepayers to
                         outside bodies;
                       * (Elected members) to
                         be re-elected.

Other local            * To promote and protect    * Economic capital;
commercial interests     their interests--         * Social capital--
commercial               sometimes individually,     networks.
                         sometimes collectively.

Local politicians      * To promote interests      * Social capital--
                         of their political          networks,
                         party;                      patronage;
                       * To promote their own      * (Variable)
                         electoral standing.         political capital.

Local media            * To promote and protect    * Economic capital;
                         their commercial          * Cultural capital;
                         interests;                * Social capital.
                       * To promote the
                         interests of
                         stakeholders with whom
                         they are allied,
                         whether for
                         ideological, commercial
                         or other reasons;
                       * (Variable) to
                         contribute to
                         maintaining an
                         informed, democratic
                         community.

Local branches         * To carry out functions    * (Limited)
of government            prescribed by               political
agencies--               repective departments,      capital--and
especially police,                                   variable degrees
justice, health,                                     of autonomy;
education,                                         * Cultural
training, skills;                                    capital--
                                                     professional
                                                     training, skills;
                                                   * Note that locally
                                                     based
                                                     representatives
                                                     of govt. agencies
                                                     are often
                                                     geographically
                                                     mobile, and
                                                     therefore might
                                                     be seen as
                                                     outsiders in the
                                                     community.

Other community        * To build coalitions to    * Social networks;
groups                   support their             * Other resources
                         particular objectives.      dependent upon
                                                     what coalition
                                                     members bring into
                                                     groups.

Government agencies    * To promote and            * (Limited and
                         implement departmental/     variable)
                         govt. policies;             political capital.
                       * To maintain standing of
                         department vis-a-vis
                         other departments.

State government       * To optimize electoral     * Political capital;
                         standing;                 * Economic capital.
                       * To maintain state as
                         an attractive
                         investment environment;
                       * To maintain an
                         efficient and effective
                         social infrastructure;
                       * To maintain public
                         order;
                       * To maintain revenue
                         base--including
                         taxes from alcohol
                         sales.

Other liquor           * To promote commercial     * Economic capital;
industry interests       interests.                * Social networks;
                                                   * Cultural capital.

Community residents    * Access to alcohol for     * Social networks.
                         recreational purposes;
                       * Protection against
                         adverse consequences
                         of alcohol misuse.


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AUTHOR'S NOTE: This paper ia revised of one presented at the 27th annual symposium of the Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol, Toronto, 28 May-1 June, 2001.

PETER D'ABBS (Menzies School of Health Research, P.O. Box 41096, Casuarina NT 0811, Australia; Peter_D'Abbs@health.qld.gov.au) is an associate professor in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. He currently has responsibility for developing and overseeing a strategic approach to alcohol-related problems in Far North Queensland. In recent years he has conducted several evaluations of community initiatives in northern Australia, key findings of which are summarized in P. d'Abbs and S. Togni, "Liquor licensing and community action in regional and remote Australia: Review of recent initiatives," Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 24:45-52, 2000.
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Title Annotation:Australia; research and community-based initiatives addressing alcohol problems
Author:D'Abbs, Peter
Publication:Contemporary Drug Problems
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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