SCIE Report 11: ESRC research, social work and social care
By Ian Shaw, Hilary Arksey and Audrey Mullender
Published December 2004
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the largest single UK funder of social science research, with a budget in excess of £80 million. Its role has been significantly expanded in recent years with a view to reinforcing the contribution made by social science to evidence-based policy and practice. While the ESRC does fund some social work and social care research, this is significantly less than for other disciplines.
The terms 'social care' and 'social work' are used in the study as there is uncertainty about the scope of social work within the ESRC, while the term 'social care' is even less familiar amongst ESRC officers and non-social work researchers.
This report looks at what contribution ESRC research programmes make - and might make - to the knowledge base for social work and social care.
It is for use by the ESRC and the social care research community.
Messages from the report
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Social work is sufficiently mainstream to what the ESRC is doing and it should be represented on the ESRC's Research Grants Board. It is a matter of debate whether social work should be recognised as a social science discipline.
- There should be a proactive determination on the part of the social work and social care research community to initiate programme ideas that will resonate with the ESRC.
- There should be continued pressure on the ESRC to integrate the social work and social care research agenda into programme development.
- A broader concept of the research user should be developed by the ESRC that recognises the contribution of service user and carers in all fields of research relevant to service development and delivery.
- It should be a requirement of all ESRC applicants to provide evidence of costed strategies for putting the research into practice.
- There should be immediate negotiation with the ESRC about building resources for postgraduate research in social work and social care.
- A case should be presented to the ESRC for targeted postdoctoral fellowships, with the aim of providing appropriate career building opportunities in social work and social care research.
- The social work community should engage in discussion with the ESRC on the future shape of Collaborative Awards for Science and Engineering (CASE) awards, and develop and, where necessary, lobby for a financially feasible means of promoting CASE studentship applications.
- The social work and social care research community should:
- cultivate an alertness to ESRC announcements
- offer to act as application assessors
- facilitate a culture of regular bidding to the ESRC
- signal clearly in those bids that social work issues are present
- lobby for a wider notion of research users
- press for rigorous democratising of the research process
- continue to develop an informed strategy for research methodologies appropriate to social work and social care research and evaluation
- develop a stronger consensus on national research priorities
- facilitate an environment of mutual support in raising research bidding rates and standards.
- Social work academics should bid for research grants rather than research centre bids.
- There should be a continuation of early discussions with the ESRC and the Joint Universities Council's Social Work Education Committee regarding the resources for and basis of an audit of the strengths and limitations of social work research in British universities. This audit should also consider the implications for developing national research priorities for social work and social care research.