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.



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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

Related links

SCIE's resources on using knowledge in social care