Few would disagree that there should be better dialogue between research and practice in social work, leading to practice which is better informed by evidence. How to achieve this change is a difficult question, however. In this brief piece I will suggest just a few possible measures. To achieve lasting change, a much broader strategy is needed. What follows are just some of the elements which might help.
1. More explicit research teaching in social work training
Social work lecturers like myself need to take responsibility for this. We need to teach social work students on initial qualifying programmes more about research methods so they can become more competent consumers of research. Some types of research require more teaching and learning than others. Much qualitative research is intuitively understood by students. (Not all of it of course; understanding more specialist approaches such as conversation analysis can require some prior learning). However, understanding even simple inferential statistics requires some understanding of probability and confounding at the very least. Most research modules on social work programmes – insofar at they exist at all – do not require this knowledge. With colleagues in Bedfordshire, Bath, Bristol and Queens I am working on a project to increase the quantitative methods teaching on undergraduate social work programmes and we are looking to recruit other universities to take part. If you want to know more, email: Kerry.Lapworth at beds . ac . uk.
2. More researcher practitioners
To inform research and teaching, ideally more social care researchers who are also qualified and experienced practitioners should spend some time working as practitioners. In medicine this already happens, when clinical academics juggle their research and teaching with part-time clinical practice. This juggling is not easy, but it does go on. It is well funded, with these individuals being paid clinical salaries (much higher than academic ones), which provides an incentive for them to keep up the clinical work. In social work we are a long way from having any comparable system and the salaries are not comparable. But for just a few more social work academics to stay working as practitioners or re-engage in practice in 2013 would be a start.
3. Employers investing more in research
Any talk of investment might seem ‘pie-in-the-sky’ in a climate of austerity. But there are investments which could ultimately bear fruit in cost savings for public bodies, because of increased efficiency in services. I would like to see these changes:
(A) The evaluation of outcomes for service users becoming mainstream
(B) More practitioners being released (i.e. given funding and time) to do research-based CPD courses
(C) Conferences organised by employers routinely including the presentation of research findings.
Again this is a big agenda for future development. But even some modest moves in these directions in 2013 would be very welcome.
We look forward to your views, experiences, and insights as we explore ‘What is in store for Social Work, Social Care and Health?’ in @SWSCmedia Twitter debate on 8 January at 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM EST.