Faces behind mentoring research: Dr. Lars Holmboe

Dr. Lars Holmboe is an anthropologist and private researcher at the University of Roskilde, in Denmark. The main subject of his research is inclusive mentoring. Lars is one of the main representatives who does research in the field of mentoring in Denmark.

Could you introduce yourself shortly?
Lars: Ive been working with mentoring for about 15 years. In those fifteen years Ive worked on creating concepts, recruiting mentors, interviewing people who would like to have a mentor, evaluations on mentor-mentee relationships and schemes for mentoring. Besides that, I arrange courses, workshops and conferences for mentors. Before my research in inclusive mentoring I was a practitioner for adults hat are in treatment for psychological problems. The schemes I have worked with are initiated for the so-called "vulnerable citizens". Im conducting mentoring programs since 2003 and Im working on research within mentoring since 2007 which was the year I started my Ph.D.

What is your affinity with mentoring?
Lars: I started because Ive worked as a private consultant for ten years where I worked with different mentoring programs e.g. A mentoring program for male immigrants. After that I had the possibility to do my Ph.D., where "how receiving a mentor reduces the mentees risk of marginalization and exclusion" was one of the main questions I wanted to answer. Before all of this I worked as an adult educator, anthropologist and consultant in third world development.

What is the driving force behind your work in mentoring?
Lars: My driving force is to do research together with participants in mentoring relations, we call that action research. Wondering about "what happens with people who get a mentor?" and "what does the mentor relation lead to?" leads to increments of interests.

What do you think are the key factors of effective mentoring?
Lars: Confidentiality is from my perspective the central key-factor of effective mentoring. If there is no confidence than there is no relationship. Another one is the development of the match between mentor and mentee. The first time they meet there isnt much information about who they both are, but the second and third time there is already more information about how the potential bond between the mentor and mentee could last. There comes a time that they have to decide if they continue with the relationship or not but it takes time to get to know each other. 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.

About effective mentoring, what works?
Lars: I agree with Helen Colley (2003) on this matter: "Rather than producing simplistic statements of what works, research on mentoring should be used to develop our thinking about what happens, in all its diversity.
Only this can help us to understand how mentoring works, and how it works differently for different people in different situations.
This sort of knowledge is likely to be more empowering for mentors, and for managers of mentoring initiatives, than good practice guidelines which ignore the complex realities they actually face."

What topic stands out in your research in the field of mentoring?
Lars: My main interest is mentoring people with psychosocial challenges, peer to peer mentoring and mentors who have experienced psychosocial challenges themselves and are mentors for people who are in treatment for related psychosocial challenges. My main theme is inclusive mentoring, gaining a broad knowledge about it in Denmark and around the world.

What is inclusive mentoring?
Lars: Inclusive mentoring, that is to say, a particular development and empowerment orientated relation where mentor helps 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 mentees risk of marginalization and exclusion.

In what way can the European Center for Evidence-based Mentoring contribute to the field of Mentoring in Europe?
Lars: I agree with the following goals of the European Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring:
"Conduct rigorous research on mentoring programs and practices, in order to improve our understanding of when, why, and for whom mentoring does (not) work. Use multidisciplinary and multilevel research approach. Put research into action, leveraging the research. Form a bridge between scientific research and practice. Promote research and make stories of mentoring more powerful in Europe and facilitate knowledge sharing to improve mentoring practices across the lifespan".
For me it is important that the center takes a very practice starting point. It could be to open some LinkedIn groups, where both researchers. and practitioners can raise questions and exchange knowledges. Also a place where you day to day, or week to week can give feedback on articles, or themes of importance. Exchange of actually knowledges is extremely important for our work.

What are your expectations of the collaboration between the European Center for Evidence-based Mentoring and the Center for Evidence Based Mentoring in Boston?
Lars: It could be interesting if we could share various kind of thinking on mentoring issues and welfare. The welfare system in US and Europe are different. "The welfare state is based on an outdated, transactional model, and needs to be replaced with something that is shared, collective and relational (Hilary Cottam says). Compared to different kind of welfare thinking (and practice). Where stands mentoring practice and research, across the Atlantic?

What are the target groups you work with in Denmark?
Lars: Immigrants and refugees (youth, adults) - Primary school children and education - Adults with mental challenges - Health care (elderly and special diseases) People with disabilities (peer-mentors) - Young ex-offenders - Preventing radicalization (exit programs) - Mentors in voluntary social work- NGO - Unemployed adults (age 18-55+).

Are there any questions that you want to send along with us to the Center for Evidence-based Mentoring in Boston?
Lars: Is it possible to have a productive discussion on different ways of doing research? What evidence actually is in our context of mentoring?
Can we develop a productive discussion on advantages and disadvantages with using a randomized control trial (RCT) way of doing research and/or using evidence-based knowledge in the anthropological way (the voice of the participants in mentor-mentee relations)?

Do you have any inspirational literature/article that you would like to share with us?
"Mentor task is a liberating task. It is not to impress upon or transfer own goal to the mentee. Mentor must instead make sure that mentee get ownership of his or her own history. In my opinion, it is the ethical obligation to support mentees perfect autonomy, freedom and opportunities to develop ". -Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1997)

Summary Ph.D. Lars "Inclusive mentoring; creating a world to live in": http://mentorblog.dk/summary-of-p-hd-english/

Email Lars:

@ Interviewed by Jelle de Graaf and Vera van den Berg, interns of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring in Boston and the European Center in Leeuwarden