SCIE Knowledge review 07: Improving the use of research in social care practice
By Isabel Walter, Sandra Nutley, Janie Percy-Smith, Di McNeish and Sarah Frost
Published: June 2004
Evidence-based policy and practice increasingly demands the use of research as a key tool to improve practice. However, little research can be directly applied to practice, many practitioners aren't equipped to digest research and appropriate support systems are lacking. What is needed is a better understanding of the relationship between social care research and the work of social care practitioners, including what organisational structures are needed to enable the use of research.
This review examines effective ways of promoting research use in social care, explores models of research use that include staff at different levels and settings in social care, and looks at what organisational structures are needed to realise the aim of using research to improve practice.
This knowledge review will be useful for organisations that undertake or review research evidence so that they can present research in ways that will be useful for end users. It will also be useful for social care providers to help them understand how they can improve the use of research by staff in the organisation.
Messages from the knowledge review
Three key approaches to developing research use in social care were identified.
The research-based practitioner model
In this model, individual social care practitioners are responsible for keeping up-to-date with the latest research and for using research findings in their day-to-day practice. When faced with a practice problem, practitioners search the literature, appraise the evidence they find, and integrate this evidence with their own practice-based knowledge and with service users' views to reach a solution. Activities that support this approach often focus on professional education and training to develop practitioners' skills in searching for and interpreting research.
The review findings suggest that there are a number of barriers to developing this model, including the capacity of individuals to access and interpret research.
The embedded research model
In this model, practitioners do not engage directly with findings from research. Instead, evidence about 'what works' in social care becomes embedded in policies, guidelines and practice tools. Policy makers and service delivery managers are responsible for making sure standards and guidance are based on research. Front-line staff are then encouraged to follow research-based practice through performance management, inspection and appraisal mechanisms.
However, while there is some evidence of this model being used, it remains largely undeveloped within the UK social care sector.
The organisational excellence model
The key to successful research use lies with social care delivery organisations: their leadership, management and structure. The emphasis is on developing a 'research-minded' culture within the organisation that is open to research and supports its use. Activities that support this approach include the creation of specific organisational posts to bridge research and practice.
The review found support for this model among members of the social care workforce, but limited evidence of its effectiveness in practice.
- There is much activity to promote the use of research in social care, but this needs to be coordinated to avoid duplication and to ensure good practice is shared.
- The diversity of the social care sector, in terms of service delivery organisations, client groups and the workforce, demands that a variety of actions are used to promote the use of research. These actions also need to take into account multi-agency and multi-disciplinary working.
- Robust evidence of what works in promoting research use in social care is limited and tends to focus on the professionally qualified workforce.
- A whole systems approach, where the use of research involves a collaborative effort between organisations and individuals, would be a positive way forward.
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- Improving the use of research in social care practice
- Improving the use of research in social care practice: Summary
- Improving the use of research in social care practice: Welsh summary