What do we mean by research?
To understand how a research-minded perspective can help you in your work it is worth first of all being reminded of what is meant when we refer to 'research' in social care and social work.
Research can be broadly defined as:
'a form of systematic enquiry that contributes to knowledge'
There are many ways to define, classify or categorise research - for example, by academic discipline, by method of data collection or by purpose. More often, research is separated into 'pure' or 'academic' research and 'applied' research. This polarisation can be unhelpful, particularly in social work and social care research where the relationship between research, practice and theory development (new knowledge) is a more dynamic one, with each dimension usefully informing the others (Furlong and Oancea 2005).
Social work and social care research have been greatly influenced by other professional and disciplinary developments. Current debates about the nature and purpose of social work research are now focusing on its distinctive contribution to the scope of social scientific research, while recognising its interdisciplinarity - for instance, the links it has to psychology, social policy, health and sociology (Smith 2009: 8).
What kinds of research or theories do you use? Do different disciplines, such as psychology or sociology, provide a different perspective on the areas that social work practises in? Reflect on these differences and how they might affect what research in social work and social care tries to uncover.
Many different research strategies are used to carry out research in social work and social care. For instance:
- evaluative research
- ethnographic research
- action research
- rapid participatory appraisal
- case study research
- experimental research
- community profiling
- systematic reviews
- quantitative research
- qualitative research
- field studies.
How many of these different kinds of research have you come across? Write them down, and next to them make a note of where you experienced each. Did they have a particular purpose in your study or work?
What these strategies all have in common is a core of common research skills and principles which should be used in any good quality research, whatever label it has. Central to these are the need to be:
- systematic in working
- purposeful in focus
- ethical in practice and process
- organised to remain on target
- critical and reflective
- analytical and thoughtful
- respectful to participants, partners and recipients of the research
- able to communicate findings effectively
- as emancipatory as possible
- assertive in reporting things others may not want to hear!
In the end, all research is a process of managed enquiry. Research findings offer a way of enhancing your existing knowledge, understanding or skill, or of uncovering something new.