SCIE lecture: Professor Mike Austin

SCIE 18 April 2007


The topic of managing evidence generated inside and outside social care organisations is rooted in some issues I wanted to share with you and the tower bridge is central to my thinking- I obsess over metaphors and you are going to see the bridge several times. So part of the rationale for this visit of now 3 weeks where I have had a chance to talk to SCIE staff but also local authority staffs around the country and so its been very helpful to me to get an inside and outside view of the kind of organisation and for me the reason for doing this visit was to take a look at the questions -dissemination and utilisation of knowledge reviews in terms of both organisational support and frontline management staff capacities.

We are particularly concerned about how do you move the wonderful work that SCIE does and others into the hands of practitioners in ways that are useful. And because I come out of a social service management background I entered the field 40 years ago as a social worker and continue to have an interest in how organisations adapt to change over time and this is a huge change obviously. And obviously the shared interest that SCIE has and that we have around the question of the gap between research and practice and continuing the field that all of you are more than aware of. Special thanks in order not only to the welcoming staff at this wonderful and unique organisation I wont list everybodys names- its been a privilege for me because it is so different from some of the things we do and yet in some ways very similar. And of course the purpose of this mornings discussion is helping to see is how much of it I got right. Just to take a moment on SCIE as an organisation.

Our youth and I am sure this has hopped across the pond have used a term that we hear a lot in terms of things being awesome. SCIE in my estimation is awesome and amazing in some unbelievable ways in the sense that this is the only organisation that I am aware of globally where the government has said we are inter4ested in funding an organisation that pays attention to transferring research into practice and if there are other organisations of this magnitude in the world- I haven't found them and so for me it was a particularly unique opportunity to see how its working- its 5 years of start up , credibility issues,, visibility issues , marketing , communication issues. All these were valuable for me to try to understand.

Let me take you through a couple of personal observations because we tend to use words differently- we claim to be speaking English- I thought I would share with you my observer perspective - you need to have some grasp about what I am seeing through my lenses which 9 out of 10 are going to be different to yours. I have spent a good deal of my time in social work academe but I am also somebody who believes strongly that the role of an academic in social work education is both research and practice and I teach practice but I teach it at the macro level-policy planning and management arena as opposed to the frontline. I've always had one foot off campus- I can't help the next generation of practitioners if I don't have one foot in practice and so for me this has been played out in several ways and I'll describe my role in staffing- all our research reviews are available at

I come out of a multidisciplinary social work background that includes political science, sociology, psychology and anthropology and so I tend to look through the lens of a multi disciplinary perspective. I also feel very strongly about the ideas of bridge building across- so the notion of the gap between practices and research is an inherently interesting one- to be addressed in ways that make sense to staff.

These are parts of the ways in which my dual perspective views things.

The context of my work- I have been staff director last 15 years for bay area social services consortium. Which is a research training and policy analysis organisation supported by 11 local authorities, 5 directors of social work programmes in the San Francisco bay area. Part of this consortium is located in the school of social welfare. The dual structure comes from the local authorities- the universities pay nothing- because they don't have the resources to contribute but they actively participate and we have 2 foundation representatives sitting there as well which is also somewhat unusual. We have completed in the last 4 years 10 research reviews and they are all on the web. They are in 3 areas- all these topics were given to my research group- made up of graduate students and a full time research co-ordinator. The topics come from the local authority directors and so the first one.

Low income families and poverty neighbourhoods grew out of a welfare reform in our country and how do we begin to think about people who are not only eligible for benefits but those just above the line who are not eligible because they are equally poor its just a matter of degree. We did a literature review in this area. The major ones are in child welfare. We have 7 of our reviews out of the 10 in this area and they tend to cluster in 2 types- assessment tool risk assessment tools, family assessment tools and children and youth assessment tools. The latter were focused on resilience and wellness not on pathology. Child welfare workers dont have a lot of time to be assessing children- either removing them for foster care or return to biological parents- they want the ability to assess so if there are serious issues they can make mental health referrals as well. The outcome measure was another set- looked at outcome measures in child welfare anywhere. Another research review on the outcomes of substance abuse treatment- mothers who abuse and neglect their children and the outcomes of parent education programmes for court referred mothers.

In these last 2- our local authorities are spending a lot of money - but have no sense of outcome- how they work.

SCIE while heavily government was a voluntary organisation- one of my interests is the relationship between statutory government organizations and the voluntary sector and what is the nature- in the states it's a huge issue- we call contracting- you call commissioning- the notion of we cant do it alone. Government needs the voluntary sector. Intrigued how SCIE fits in if government funded but operates as a voluntary organisation.

So how SCIE is structured and how does this all work- I looked at new labours compact. Public policy that in essence government says the voluntary sector is critical and we need to help it and support it, give it 90 days and not 2 days to change. Looked at it with respect to SCIE.

Government seeking to increase standards and choice. We have nothing close to this in USA . It acknowledges the partnership in a way that we don't. Rooted in government perception that voluntary sector is value added. Never publicly acknowledged by government as a partnership context in states. Here it focuses on the organisational capacities- the mission of SCIE, expertise, proximity to users, ability to innovate and more flexible than government. That's why SCIE is there and it's not all government.

The other reason- associational capacity- Scie's opportunities to foster participation from a range of groups. SCIE is built heavily on a collaborative, model- wanted to understand that and the cost in time and money and support.

The gap between research and practice- includes a set of players- the tower bridge metaphor- the bridge has not come down- you cant get across it yet- for a variety of reasons- your policy makers have very short time horizons- they want change yesterday or tomorrow- sense of them control this bridge thinking they can make it go down- policy analysts who are in government trying to frame issues and innovate and the practitioners and researchers finding it difficult to cross.

What is the gap? These are the views of one person here 3 weeks asking lots of questions-

One of the reasons for the gap- lack of shared efforts to define research problems together, interpret findings together and utilise findings in practice together- the notions of doing any of this in a shared way in some cases occurs but I know this is rare. Its rare in the states too- it's not unique to the UK.

Why does it exist?

Lack of cross cultural capacity related to different languages, diversity - world views and values. I keep reminding our local authority directors- they can't understand why research takes a year to complete- in the academic world that is very fast- a year. We have an ongoing debate - different orientations to time.

To what extent does the gap involve different views of the value if research.

Issue wrestle with is problem of research being equivocal all the time. Rare. We have not been able to do that in social services means got to do more research. Practitioner's standpoint is until you know what it is I don't want to read another report.

How do I understand the policy context of SCIE?

Users and carers- we don't have language like that or the philosophy of advocacy that underlines that.

I took a bit of time- codes and mandates- tried to figure out what they are and what has to do with SCIE.

Looked at 3 areas that represented different organisational interests- all impact on SCIE.

1. staff codes

From general social care council.

Refs to users and carers. Made clear where this interest in users and carers comes from this source. Managements here means employers. Full profit companies in states are employers. In voluntary sector they are called management. Here management is about policy and procedures.

Interesting to see these codes. This is part of the environment scie is responding to:

2. 2nd set of codes came from compacts legislation - minorities, communities, procurement, volunteering- notion of collaborative message. Partnership set of influences on scie on how should be spending its time and doing its work.

3. Last set of mandates- influencing scies work.

Observations relate to scie

Need to move beyond commission reviews to map the knowledge of practice to compliment the knowledge of research.

Distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge- the stuff we generate in our reports is explicit knowledge. What do staff know? How do we track tacit knowledge that staff bring? Until know that difficult to insert this evidence based knowledge.

Need research practice dialogue

Design search engines tailored to different audiences. We don't organise websites to refelect the users who want to figure out what we do. How do we do that? If we encourage staff to go online to find things- we need to make pathways easier for them.

Local environment

Asked local authrorities of their view of scie-

Observations their perspective-

Reactive to policy changes

Very reactive to organbisations restructuring

The notion local authrorities expected much more co coordinating work and design their own research- how are they supposed to do all this? Response to this is new management roles. Research officers, people trying to hold the research together at local level. Rollercoaster history of high interest low interest over time- challenges this creates are many. Distance between frontline and senior management. Most get into management in local authority- promoted from within. Very little management education going on. People move into management who may need a set of skills to engage in support evidence based practice.

In the states blocked by middle management- some parallels here. Lack of in-depth training, hard time making staff understand what the quarterly reports are saying.

The regulatory environment where local authorities operate are undermining staff creativity.

Evidence based practice

Reading and reflection days- look into a topic and explore online - sometimes linked to training days.

Very few people actually do this. Why? Because have to fill out form that says the topics interested in- some staff define this as more work as already have.

Interest in online access to research in practice. Barnardos and others.

Notion of expect staff to go online - particularly when have the latest reports is a bombardment information- not sure which one to follow, limited time and how to think about this information. Information overload. Not been addressed from a workers perspective.

Went to SCIE website and read some of the reports in the publications list.

Getting lost in the labels of what being produced - what kinds of reports.

Tried to figure out what these things are related to.

4 categories

  1. SCIE is involved in issues management through networking

Helps determine why SCIE does a review on partnering, carers of the elderly. Come out of an issues management context. Could argue how well managed and who manages it. It's a function that makes sense.

  1. And 3- most known for literature searching and reviewing. Interpreting findings for practice. Resource guides. Disseminations. Web communications.

How is this infused in the local scene? The gap?

Gap between central government and local government.

Gap between government and the voluntary sector- SCIE is part of that

Bridge is not closing.

Reason- either government is pre-occupied with a set of changes that few people can keep up with and/or the voluntary sector is never quick enough in its response.

Questions that come up about integrating

who might serve as a knowledge broker- performance reviews- reports used to have boxes in them- called promising practices- if the LA was not doing well in something- would be described and at the bottom would be some examples abut this- these have now been eliminated- where are the performance people involved? They are dealing with evidence and accountability- nothing is infused with how has been improved?

In-service and pre-service in the states are 2 distinctions.

What are the courses needed to integrate evidence practice into daily practice.

Best way to monitor resources at SCIE

One of the current ways of analysis is that the best. How do we get this material utilised by staff. How is case reviews qualified to be part of the evidence for practice?

Given turnover of staff- how is the historical context reflected in knowledge and practice reviews.

Read a number of user reviews- and didn't understand where this user care interest theme come from over time. Need to contextualise for staff what this content is about- where came from- why it's important. For the new workers- they need to know where it came from or how changed over time. Place work in historical context is a challenge in evidence based practice.

Shifting from SCIE to BASSC


Relate to 2 areas that interested in

Knowledge sharing and strategies for implement in local agencies

Diagrams are used here

About intersections and inter-relationships- conceptual mapping

Knowledge sharing- tacit/explicit knowledge

Notions about understanding the relationship between nature of knowledge, the motivation to share it and the opportunities to share it.

Motivation to share to do with lifelong learning, trust, risk taking, identifying the champions. Who will help move this agenda? SCIE has indicated usually middle management take hold of these ideas- becasue can link to staff above and below them.

Opportunities to share- staff meetings, training sessions- understand what means to share- not always a connection to transfer the learning that comes out of the sharing back to the work scene.

Literature- transfer of learning and the logics underlie that

Trainers don't know what happens after the workshops that hold. How is this translated back to the work site- huge knowledge area for us to understand? Did anyone read the summaries? Useful in organise efforts to move in direction of strategies in social care organisations.

Strategies identified- comes from the literature

  1. Important with Local Authority (LA) Building relationship between knowledge sharing and organisational goals and outcomes. Essential- and miss it every time. How knowledge is built for its utilisation. What are the agencies goal right now, what trying to do, how does what we think would inform that get built in. complex strategy to operationalise
  2. 2. Link knowledge sharing with values held by the organisation including expectations, language, recognition and mission. E.g. - recognition- senior management not acknowledge when middle management do engage in practices. No note sent to them. Honoured in some way. No celebrating successes. Even if marginal advances- move from a to b- when need to be z- we need to acknowledge this
  3. Tailor the knowledge to the system. Urban counties and rural counties- operate differently and cultures are different- how does this work for both.
  4. Identify the breadth and depth of knowledge that already exists in the organisation so that staff can build on existing networks of share and disseminate knowledge.
  5. 5 id the key knowledge workers in the organisations as well roles and responsibilities of all staff to increase knowledge sharing. Should senior staff id one person as a focal point for the agency and outside research coming in. or should it be a group. Not resolved this in states. Debate next fall.
  6. Managing with a task force.

These are systems concepts

Individual concepts- relate to assess capacity and readiness of staff for evidence and form practice.

Beginning list

SCIE has identified some of these already

1 More work to do here on getting staff ready to receive knowledge reviews of any kind

We made the assumption if they can read and have time is done. Not done. Part of the question what are the capacities that we think should be reflected in staff. As true for staff as social workers and students.

We rarely define critical thinking capacity. What does it look like to staff?

2 Self reflection capacities- in social work education is a fair amount of subliminal messages in course of teaching practice- that says part of your job is to reflect what happening in the interchange in that context with families. Self reflection that gets staff to take it up a level what is it that I am doing that I could be doing better across any case or client or user population- which gets you thinking about who else is doing things- how might they are doing might help me, reflect on what others do- is a different set of skills.

3 Help seeking capacities- implicit and need be more explicit- try to assess how you seek out help- when looking for advice. What triggers that for you- do you have to be in a crisis before you ask for help- or is it part of how you practise and if so what are those skills that are central to help seeking behaviours?

  1. system assessment capacities for frontline staff- what going on upstairs- where did this new mandate come from and what does it have to do with me in my work? Quick learning about assess systems you are operating in and how they change. Usually dull for line staff- which is counterproductive. Part of evidence based practice is having an overview of practice than a daily view. Systems assessment skills are part of that. Management- say those same skills apply to management too. These are in addition to

4. Group facilitation capacities- being facilitated by a middle manager somewhere who likes ideas and change, research, enjoys communicate with university campus people. Driving this process. Champions

Skills sets they have is group roup facilitations- bring people together and ask why are we doing this and could we do this better.

Capacities to schedule time and space. When they are not followed staff get turned off fast-

Capacity to bring in outside technical systems from SCIE, Barnardo's. Who is bringing in the resources that might be helpful?


What does all this mean for SCIE?

Focusing on SCIE- drawing the same implications for other organisations as well

Talking about rebalancing the emphasis we have placed on production and dissemination. The worry the SCIE reports sit n the shelves of local practitioners- they are on the websites that nobody is accessing, or accessing in a very limited way. Try to see how much can focus on utilisation. It's the back ender of this whole process of how staff use this and ways in which they use it. Talked to staff and struck about capturing the lessons learned by SCIE in the first 5 years.

So production orientated- getting reviews done, on the web, in practice manuals. Very strong production orientation which has paid off- the credibility assessments suggest when do read them regarded of high quality.

But where is utilisation in this picture. Something bask (?) struggles with continuously

Moving beyond consulting with project specific networks. How do you know this is working? Is this just about a unique group of people who come to SCIE meetings? Do they represent the thousands? Unique group of users.

Finding strategies to assist front line managers and staff.

Notion of assessment skills that came out of 2002 legislation in child assessment. Ask - if they are up to speed in assess children and families- how do we use the skills that went into that- to assess knowledge for use in utilisation? Those connections aren't being made. That's where the workers are- assessing clients - now need to assess the knowledge that's coming in to see if that's useful to their practice. Explore this. Assess the impact of interventions on outcomes. In States - involved with notion of outcome measurements. In child welfare beginning to track those outcomes.

Expand the research skills of managers to enlarge the organisational culture of enquiry and caring. Users and carers term. Applying those to staff: frontline staff are users and managers are carers

Managers have to care about evidence and have to care about how it's constructed and what its implications might be. Don't have to be researchers. Some sense of research enterprise that leads to knowledge reports.

What should managers know about research that informs practice and how would we conceptualise that

SCIE is so unusual and so unique and the largest funded effort- its now positioned in very interesting way- after 5 plus years- the credibility issue has been somewhat resolved, visibility varies. It is now in a place to re-think its larger strategy- in terms of regionalising SCIE and internationalising SCIE.

Regional - how to think about SCIE presence regionally in UK and Northern Ireland

Its purpose is knowledge dissemination/utilisation. Trainees need to be brought up to speed- evidence based training programmes. To help them in test practice guides. Develop new approaches. How being utilised or not and if so then why not. Utilisation is huge in student development. Education follows practice. We teach on campus what practitioners have already innovated. The innovations and technology is rooted in practice and then in textbooks and then to the students. See SCIE as positioned technologically to shorten that through e learning, e assessment. Like to see entry level learning tools that help a worker just starting engage in an online assessment of what they know. In States- say to students coming into the masters, need to know what your social science base is. Half of students are psych majors and other half English majors. Want them to have a social science base. Need a way to test that - as a learning tool. What they need to know and if they don't know some stuff here are some ways to know it. Bypassing faculty. On campus have people teach who never been in practice or not been in practice in years. All students are computer literate - means have the technology to provide learning tools for students way ahead of what going on in the classroom, this is where SCIE can come in. Inform classroom discussion in a revolutionary way

Faculty and trainer development. Huge agenda. Every faculty member should have a week exposed to what this is and how might inform their teaching and research

Performance auditors- how bring them in? Complicated question. Have government beaurocrats.

Thus the purpose of regionalising SCIE is to zero in on some of this.


SCIE could be instrumental in creating a UK directive of national voluntary organisations. Message here is evidence based practice is not going to move forward in the way it could if these organisations are not at the same table thinking about how they could play a role. It's a way of thinking not an exhaustive list. Regional structures reflect the directorate. In the region there are representatives from all of these playing a role in some way. Regional considerations include- clustering of 6-10 local authorities, in this case children and adult services directors. Directors or chairs or universities or related programmes. Bringing it home in ways that local differences and needs can be better addressed over time.

Staffing- budgeting.

Half plan factor. Graduate students in research assistant positions, admin assistants, who will pay for this? Bask model local authority paid through subscription or dues. Funds research and admin budget. Comes from the user population.

International considerations

Unusual investment by the UK government. Needs to be shared internationally. SCIE needs to think about international strategy. To share the regional approach, the SCIE knowledge dissemination technology, to provide SCIE technical assistant and have on site visitor programmes and consolidate the experience. Could include explore interests with national organisations, public sector, voluntary sector. If SCIE in states to create a US or Canadian effort- could find substantial private funding- because so innovative.

How to get this started

Whether a UK foundation would help initiate this? This would all be place in time for SCIE's 10th anniversary in 2011?

Rebalancing knowledge production and dissemination with utilisation processes. Focus with bask

Develop strategies to assist frontline staff and managers

Develop partnerships frameworks to regionalise and internationalise SCIE

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