How do Social Workers use Evidence in Practice?

Gordon, Jean; Cooper, Barry and Dumbleton, Sue (2009). How do Social Workers use Evidence in Practice? The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.


Aims of the research:

Scotland's 21st Century Review of Social Work, 'Changing Lives', told us that, 'If we are serious about developing social work as a profession and having practitioners able to practise safely and innovatively, then we need to both develop and use evidence to inform practice' (Scottish Executive, 2006: 55). This research investigates how social work practitioners make use of research, inquiry, and other forms of knowledge evidence to inform their practice. The study uses a 'critical best practice' approach (Ferguson, 2003) to learn from the analysis of detailed examples of how social workers use knowledge in their day to day practice with service users and carers. A best practice approach offers an opportunity to move away from the 'climate of negativity' experienced by social work in the UK (Jones et al., 2008:1), and to celebrate some of the achievements of skilled social work practitioners. At the same time taking a critical lens to practice offers potential to gain a better understanding what such practice actually 'looks like' as it happens, promoting positive learning about social work and, ultimately, better outcomes for service users and carers (Jones et al., 2008: 15).

This research has been conducted under the umbrella of the Critical Best Practice social work research group at the Open University, and has benefited from the discussions and contributions of other members of this group. Its findings are intended to complement a small but growing literature about critical best practice in the UK. The study also aims to contribute to current debates about how social work practitioners understand and use knowledge evidence, an area of research in which the perspectives of social worker practitioners themselves have received remarkably little attention (Trevethick, 2008). The subject is highly topical, both in Scotland, which is currently consulting on both its Research and Development and Knowledge Management Strategies (IRISS, 2008; IRISS/NES, 2009), as well as in the health and social care sector in the UK as a whole. It is also hoped that findings of the research will be able to make a helpful contribution to social work and other practicebased education through more tangible outputs, such as learning materials for students and practitioners.

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