Research mindedness

The production of 'evidence' in social work and social care

The knowledge that goes into producing and informing practice in the field of social work and social care comes from a variety of sources. As Pawson et al. (2006) suggest, knowledge for practice may come from users of services, from the combination of theories, learned knowledge and experience that makes up tacit practitioner knowledge, from the policy community, from social care organisations or from research into the practice, processes and outcomes of social care. Each of these can be said to produce a form of evidence which will shape what happens within practice. For instance, the co-production of services (Needham 2009) - meaning the ways in which joint decision-making between those who use services and those who provide them takes place - takes as its basis the knowledge of service users as a form of evidence for informing practice.

A useful description of knowledge for practice is given by Janet Lewis (2001), former director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

Knowledge = evidence + practice wisdom + service user and carer experiences and wishes.

What then is the role of research knowledge in social work and social care? Research takes place in different ways, with different aims. It can help you to understand:

Research is one source of evidence and, in terms of the policies and practices of organisations that intervene in the lives of vulnerable people, is not always the most influential, since it has to compete with other sources which are of varying reliability. For instance, policy is often formed through political ideology. Within practice, 'common sense' approaches can be based on the influence of family, friends and colleagues, the media and organisational norms. It can be difficult for the evidence provided by research to be heard above these other voices. A report for Barnardos in 2000 found that an important element in the uptake of research findings into practice was timing: if the relevant research was found at the time it was needed for a practice decision, then it was more likely to be used (Hughes et al 2000).

While this may seem obvious, it is not the easiest objective to achieve. Connecting research and practice in a way that is meaningful for practitioners, and useful for those who use services, has become an aim of organisations such as SCIE, while the training and continuing professional development of those who work in social work and social care should provide the skills to find the sources of research required and understand what they mean, at the point of need. Making sense of research and Finding research provide resources and training to facilitate this.


Think about all the different influences on the ways you work with people or think about research (for instance, education, friends, work colleagues, service users, policy or family).

  • Which are the voices that are loudest for you?
  • Are there some you tend to ignore?

Consider the reasons why these influences have different strengths, and whether the balance is good for research mindedness.