Research in social work and social care
This section of the Research Mindedness resource explores some of the areas that are tied strongly to social care research. It looks at:
- Production of evidence
- Research, policy and practice
- Research involving people who use services
- Practitioner research
- Ethics and values in social care research
In What do we mean by research? we said that the use of research in social work is interdisciplinary - that is, it uses research and research skills which arise from other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and psychology. However, this does not mean that social work research lacks distinction or focus. In a paper entitled 'Is social work research distinctive?', Shaw (2007) uses a definition from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to demonstrate that several of the criteria which define social work research - ethical awareness, a reflexive consideration of the place of the researcher in the research, and a sensitivity to the political and social context - can be applied to other social research. What sets social work research apart is its positioning as emancipatory. This can be described as:
- being prepared to challenge inequality and oppression in all aspects of the research process
- understanding that the voices of service users and participants from all fields must be included appropriately.
Writing in the context of disability research, Colin Barnes (2003: 6) defines social work research as being 'about the empowerment of disabled people through the transformation of the material and social relations of research production'.
'As part of this emancipatory stance', it is important that those who use services are involved in research about them. For instance, the guide to systematic reviews produced by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) is clear that the service user's voice must be included, preferably at all stages of the research (Rutter et al. 2010). Organisations such as INVOLVE help to promote and facilitate public participation in health and social care research. An excellent publication here is INVOLVE (2010) 'Turning the pyramid upside down: examples of public involvement in social care research' McLaughlin (2012: 136, citing Mayer and Timms 1970) writes that: 'Social work has a proud tradition of seeking service user views that goes back to the seminal The Client Speaks'.
This connection to the value base of social work practice was found again in a report published by SCIE in 2007. The authors analysed a sample of social work papers submitted by universities in England, Scotland and Wales to the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (The RAE was a way in which the quality of research from British universities was measured using 'peer review' by a panel of senior academics and others from the research community. This determined further funding for each institution. The RAE has now been replaced by the Research Excellence Framework (the REF), the first of which takes place in 2014). They concluded that the 'distinctive characteristics of social work research' were its 'strong profile of democratised, participatory and user-led research' (Shaw and Norton 2007:
They found that social work research had a set of purposes related to social work practice and values. While the contexts in which it took place were sometimes shared with other disciplines, its purposeful focus was a distinguishing feature.
Social work research also encompasses theory and practice in social care. It is generally agreed that social work as a profession has retained a disciplinary research focus (Bywaters 2008), but that social work is in itself embedded in the larger field of social care.