Research mindedness

Research and practice

It is now widely understood that there is a close relationship between research and practice. Professional practice should be informed by research, and students must also learn how to take this approach. This idea is not new - for instance, Brian Sheldon and his colleagues cite Cabot in 1931 as an early advocate (McLaughlin 2012: 95), but the idea of practice which is grounded in evidence has gained a higher profile in recent years. An example of a framework linking research and practice skills was developed by Tripodi (1974), who asserted that many of the processes and skills used in professional practice also support research work. He drew a parallel between the main tasks of the social worker and the researcher, as shown below.

Social work


Determine intervention plan

Implement intervention

Evaluate intervention effects

Review and termination


Problem formulation

Research strategy

Collect data

Analysis of data


Others (Marlow 2010; Smith 2009) have made a philosophical argument about the interdependence of professional practice and research, including how the combination can be mutually enriching. Part of this interdependence should be about involving service users in research and research mindedness. Organisations such as Involve and Shaping our Lives can facilitate this. This resource aims to show you how to build those bridges between research, learning and practice, so that research mindedness becomes an everyday perspective that informs what you do and how you do it.


Do you agree with Tripodi's parallels between social work practices and research practices? Are there different ways to conceptualise this?

Write down a list of the tasks that you carry out in social work or social care. Now write another list next to it with the sorts of things you would do if you were carrying out a research project - for instance, planning the project or interviewing participants. Draw lines between the items on the two lists to connect them. Are your parallels the same as Tripodi's?

Example: A social work community task involving research skills

A care manager in an elderly person's team in a social services department wanted information on local voluntary groups willing to visit elderly people to provide a friendly contact, especially in cold weather. A list of such groups already existed in the office, but the care manager suspected it was out of date and possibly incomplete. She wrote to each of the groups on the list to ask whether they still visited elderly people, and if so how many volunteers they had available. She also wrote to local faith organisations and other relevant groups, as well as asking her colleagues, in an effort to identify new groups.

The techniques and skills used include:

  • firstly searching systematically for existing sources of information
  • only when these had been scrutinised, looking for new information.

The care manager used local knowledge and contacts to spread the net for new groups, and asked a couple of questions of each so as to establish whether they made visits and how much they could take on. Once gathered, the data was used to provide a resource for all staff in the office.