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British Journal of Social Work (2011) 41, 557–575

doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcq138 Advance Access publication December 3, 2010

Investing in the Future: Social Workers Talk about Research
Liz Beddoe
Liz Beddoe, BA, MA (Social Work), Ph.D., CQSW, MNZASW, is Head of the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland. Liz has published many articles on social work education and professional supervision in a variety of journals in New Zealand and overseas. She is a member of the editorial boards for Social Work Education, Australian Social Work, and Health Sociology Review and is a regular reviewer for a number of journals. Her teaching and research interests include the professionalisation project in social work, supervision, practice teaching, continuing education and social work in health care Correspondence to Liz Beddoe, BA, MA (Social Work), Ph.D., CQSW, MNZASW, School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. E-mail:

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The movement towards developing a profession more confidently grounded in research has been one of the most significant international trends in social work during the past decade. This article presents findings from one section of a qualitative study of continuing professional education in New Zealand social work. Social workers interviewed were very aware of the significant contemporary discourse of research-informed practice within the profession. Analysis reveals that while New Zealand social work practitioners are positive about the ideals of social work research, their enthusiasm is tempered by issues of confidence and some practical considerations and constraints. These issues reflect those outlined in the social work literature. When asked to discuss their views on social work research, as a component of continuing education, participants identified research based activities as part of the professionalisation project of social work. Research activity was also perceived as significant to the safety of the profession in contestable spaces, evidence of the contribution of social work and vital to the maintenance and development of excellent practice. Keywords: Practitioner research, professionalisation, social work research

Accepted: November 2010

# The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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In the international arena, there has been an increasing emphasis on developing evidence-based or evidence-led practice in social work, as there has been in other professions (Munro, 1998; Sheldon, 2001; Webb, 2001; Walters et al., 2004; McNeill, 2006; Plath, 2006; McDonald, 2008). McCrystal and Wilson (2009, p. 857) note that in the UK, to a large extent, this reflects ‘the “modernization” agenda of the New Labour Government which has included demands for better quality standards and outcomes and greater professional accountability in health and social care’. Fox, Martin and Green (2007) claim that an increasing number of professional practitioners have research within their professional remit, as both practice and research benefit from practitioner research and academic research is enhanced by links with practice (Fox et al., 2007, pp. 1 – 3). The Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) movement in social services, while contentious (Trinder and Reynolds, 2000; Webb, 2001), has promoted the notion that social work practice be informed and developed from the results of scientifically conducted research (Sheldon, 2001). Critical perspectives on EBP include the charge that it favours traditional empirical research and is based on a flawed understanding of social sciences research; such an approach fails to adequately account for the ambiguities and complexities of social work practice (Webb, 2001). Many commentators (Beresford, 2000; Gibbs 2001a, 2001b) have argued that evidence-based practice tends to privilege certain types of evidence while marginalising other forms in favour of the ‘quick and dirty’ approach popular in contemporary health and social care (Humphries, 2003, p. 86). It is held that the voice of service users can be lessened and Gilbert and Powell (2010, p. 13) cite Scheyett (2006) as arguing that EBP effectively silences service users and the practitioner as the ‘knowledge of the “real world” becomes subjugated to disciplinary knowledge external’ to the world of practitioner and user in dialogue. Van de Luitgaarden (2009) challenges the inadequacy of generalising research findings in work with service users. Social workers, while observing trends and patterns, might also privilege the unique and idiosyncratic feature of everyday practice tasks ‘in situ’, especially in relation to culture, space and place. More recently, comment has focused on the impact of a dominant EBP culture on social work education and practice. From a US perspective, McCoyd, Johnson, Munch and LaSala (2009) argue that a ‘quantocentric’ culture in social work scholarship may produce a long-term effect of the:
. . . homogenization of social work knowledge in ways that will become ever less-useful to social workers and social work students. We see removal of much social context in quantitative research that is detrimental for social work practice, particularly as students pursuing practitioner roles find less relevance of research to their practice (McCoyd et al., 2009, pp. 821 – 2).

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Adams, Matto and Winston LeCroy (2009, p. 174) note that the uncritical adoption of EBP could diminish the emphasis in social work on theories of human behaviour and theories of change, arguing that EBP ‘offers no theoretical underpinning on which to base activities in practice such as conceptualizing a problem or assessing client needs’. Responses to these critical perspectives suggest alternative approaches, claiming that many research methods can contribute to social work knowledge. Petr and Walter (2009, p. 231), for example, argue for ‘Multidimensional Evidence-Based Practice (MEBP), which redefines best practices by incorporating consumer, professional and quantitative research in the best practices inquiry, thus empowering those doing the work and receiving the services, and challenging the hegemony of EBP and quantitative research’. Lack of problematisation of what is a good outcome of practice is questioned by van de Luitgaarden (2009, p. 247), who notes that in definitions of EBP, it seems to be ‘implicitly assumed that consensus exists about the value that is to be attached to every possible outcome, because the term “improvement” is not relativized or problematized in any way’. Gibbs (2001a) and Butler (2003) advocate for social work research to be closely aligned to the moral and ethical mission of social work. Participatory action research is one approach, compatible with social work principles, as it offers a strong framework for social work (Bradbury and Reason, 2003; Sanders and Munford, 2008) that is embedded in social care organisations. Collaborative research can also contribute to policy development and associated practice improvement and bring benefits to practice, as it may ‘help to identify information gaps and crystallize policy and practice issues’ (Connolly, 2004, p. 126). Connolly suggests collaborative research offers the potential for ‘more holistic responses to research development that are cognisant of policy and practice needs’ (Connolly, 2004, p. 126). This paper reports the practitioner ‘talk’ about research revealed in a study of social workers’ participation in continuing professional education, as described below. It is important to note that EBP is only one aspect of social work research and the practitioners in this study discussed scholarship, writing, knowledge production and utilisation of research as well as the impact of EBP. Often, their discussion of EBP indicates that they have generalised the term as a shorthand way of talking about research itself. As such, this indicates that EBP is a pervasive and influential discourse and the frequency of participant comment may suggest anxiety about ‘measuring up’ in social work, rather than concern about measurement itself.

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Challenges in developing scholarly capacity
Over the last decade, social work has been subject to critical examination in relation to its ability to articulate a sound knowledge base for its actions

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(Osmond and O’Connor, 2004; Osmond, 2005; Trevithick, 2008; Winston LeCroy, 2010). Concern about the lack of emphasis on research-informed social work education and the level of research activity amongst social work academics is also well documented in the literature. University social work schools face similar challenges in many countries, as government-driven changes to the funding models for higher education drive outputs-focused research that is often challenging for schools inclined to apply most resource into undergraduate social work qualifying courses (Beddoe, 2007, p. 52). Orme and Powell (2008) note the confounding problem where social work departments in universities have traditionally recruited staff from practice because, in order to ‘defend the identity and interests of the profession, such appointments were necessary because the first priority for practitioners moving into higher education was to deliver the curriculum for social work education’ (Orme and Powell, 2008, p. 993). As Orme and Powell further note, research was not a high priority in education or practice until the advent of modernisation (and performance-based research funding of universities, a major factor in New Zealand) and ‘practitioners were not able to make up for the deficits in research methods and/or research mindedness in their qualifying education and training because of the lack of emphasis on research in agencies’ (Orme and Powell, 2008, p. 993). In Australia Agbim and Ozanne (2007) report from a survey of social work educators the presence of strong support for improved research activity and note that ‘educators spoke of a need for greater inclusion of research training in the . . . curriculum and for educators themselves’ and suggest a culture change is needed ‘in relation to the approach to research in social work schools, including the need to reduce teaching loads’ (Agbim and Ozanne, 2007, p. 79). A brief review of the literature identifies many challenges to the social work profession in developing a research culture. Most commonly cited are matters of time, confidence, knowledge and skill (Karvinen-Niinikoski, 2005; Joubert, 2006), belief in the need for social workers to do more than just process information (McCrystal, 2000; McNeill, 2006; Wade and Neuman, 2007) and access to literature and resources (McNeill, 2006, p. 153). In two projects involving New Zealand practitioner researchers, ´ and Yates (2008, p. 39) and Sanders and Munford (2008, Lunt, Fouche p. 26) note that it is difficult for practitioners to set aside and maintain time for research, as work demands their attention. Workloads, expectations and lack of support from colleagues and managers can add to the challenges. Lunt et al. also noted that management support was crucial in terms of both practical matters and recognising the value of research. Youll and Walker (1995) and (Mitchell, 2001, p. 439) both noted that agency personnel can find many ways to undermine study through lack of support. There is agreement in the literature that there is a need for strategies to develop research confidence and capacity in the practitioner com´ and munity (McCrystal, 2000; Lunt et al., 2008; Mitchell et al., 2008; Fouche

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Lunt, 2009; Lunt et al., 2009). Mitchell et al. (2008, p. 5) note the potential of practitioner research and cite Fuller and Petch (1995), who believed that:
Practitioners are often better placed than academic researchers to develop collaborative relationships at all stages with professionals and service users. Advantages include a research agenda driven by knowledge of context and service users needs; the ability to draw upon and value practice skills when used in the context of research activity; and knowledge of how agency data is collected and its robustness (Fuller and Petch, 1995, p. 10).

Lunt et al. (2008), in advocating mentoring of practitioner research, note a potential limitation in that ‘academics working in applied professions are expected to deliver academic outputs that do not necessarily support practice initiatives such as publishing in practice journals, or mentoring practice projects’ (Lunt et al., 2008, p. 52).

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Research and the professionalisation project of social work
There is common agreement in the literature that the social work profession requires a strong research culture in order to be more effective and ‘foot it’ alongside other professions, frequently linking this to the reflective practice imperative (Fook, 2003; Gilgun, 2005; Karniven-Niinikovski, 2005; McCrae et al., 2005). McCrae et al. (2005, p. 68) note that ‘the professional knowledge base will remain weak in relation to other disciplines’ without an expansion of research activity. Growing utilisation of research and building research capacity both within universities and in practice are both themes strongly linked to the professionalisation project in social work. In the knowledge society, professions need stake a strong claim in a territory (Olgiati, 2006) and Olson (2007) argues that in the 1970s (in the USA, later in the UK and other countries), ‘social work aligned itself with the academic social sciences after a 100-year search for theoretical and epistemological legitimacy’, thus fully adopting ‘the fundamental assumptions of the professional project’ (Olson, 2007, p. 52). Humphries (2003) draws the themes together thus:
. . . one needs to be aware of the important dimension of the professionalisation of social work research in making sense of what appears to be social work’s easy seduction by the positivist inspired model of knowledge. Social work has had limited success in achieving professional status through other means, and is currently pursuing a particular identity through what is presented as a scientific approach to research (Humphries, 2003, p. 85).

This ‘project’ has led to a re-examination of how knowledge is used in practice and the links between formal codified knowledge and what practitioners ‘know’. A problem identified in the study of social work knowledge is that practitioners don’t always identify and label what they know (Osmond and

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O’Connor, 2004; Osmond, 2005; Osmond and O’Connor, 2006). Such research has indicated that social workers don’t demonstrate a coherent, comprehensive and elaborated theory and research base to their practice (Osmond and O’Connor, 2006). This article reports on the views of New Zealand social workers as they reflected on the significance of ongoing education, scholarship and research as a part of their engagement in professional education (Beddoe, 2010). The article does not attempt to examine EBP in detail as a contested practice. Rather, it explores the study participants’ experience and the findings illustrate the close links of the research agenda to the drive to ‘modernise’ or professionalise social work. It will also be noted that the organisational context of social work exerts significant impact on social worker engagement with research.
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The study
The study of continuing education with social work practitioners and managers was undertaken during a period of intense change in New Zealand social work, brought about by the requirements of new legislation to register social workers (NZ Government SWRA, 2003). Registration heralded the arrival of a greater mandate for continuing professional education in social work. This provides practitioners, managers and educators with both challenges and opportunities but the lack of any significant expectation that social workers will undertake higher education. Professional development is provided largely by employers, as few practitioners participate in formal university education after achieving their first professional qualification. The study employed both semi-structured individual (seventeen) and (six) group interviews involving forty social workers, professional leaders and managers. The participants were forty people engaged in social work and social services; most were practitioners, supervisors and managers, some in private practice and several with multiple roles. Three held significant leadership roles in specific professional communities. The participants in this study were 80 per cent female (N ¼ 33) and, in age, 60 per cent were aged between thirty and fifty years. Pakeha (European) participants were the majority, with 80 per cent (N ¼ 32), followed by Maori (10 per cent, N ¼ 4), Pasifika (7 per cent, N ¼ 3) and 2.5 per cent (N ¼ 1) Chinese. The majority held professional qualifications, ranging from undergraduate diplomas and degrees to doctorates. The study recruited people in response to a call to assist with a study of continuing professional education, in the period following the advent of statutory registration. Two group interviews were context-specific (one in a mental health setting and one in statutory child welfare) and four groups were mixed. In New Zealand, child welfare services and health services are separate. The statutory child protection agency and the health services (regional employers) provide large fields of practice and have different

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organisational cultures. Setting up context-specific groups ensured that situational differences could be identified. The transcribed data from the interviews were coded line by line and analysed with the assistance of qualitative research software. Themes emerging from the project as a whole included strong links between continuing professional education and the professionalisation agenda of social work; the impact of the organisational context on practitioners; the complex links between professional education and forms of social and cultural capital and greater understanding of the barriers to social worker engagement in further education and, in particular, research activity (Beddoe, 2010). This article focuses on the last of these themes and explores social workers’ views on research activity within practice. Research activity includes awareness, application and dissemination as well as production. Deeper thematic analysis of the data focused on research and scholarship activities revealed five broad themes. These are: the value and importance of research to practitioners; awareness of EBP; the influence of organisational factors on research activity; social work culture and the confidence to do research; and status, other professions and research. Participants are front line workers or supervisors unless otherwise stated.

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The value and importance of research to practitioners
There was a general agreement that social workers needed to be well informed, but often research was seen as a stretch, or, as Bill put it:
Producing new knowledge or doing research that is the ‘flash’ bit but actually updating your knowledge and skills it is sort of a more basic level also have its place (Bill, mental health).

The most common reaction to my questions about research activity was that research was about justifying social workers actions, and indeed roles in institutions. This raises issues about the lack of linkage between the ethical demands of professional practice. Respondents’ concerns were more pragmatic:
It would help us to better meet the managerial demands, the demands of effectiveness, we can more effectively answer what it is that social work brings to this organization, what it brings to its clients, and have answers . . . in a way that impresses other people . . . particularly in this kind of organization (Summer, health). I find we really needed to enhance the role of research and when we are working in some programme we need to think of how to evaluate, it not only just doing the same thing without any proof- how do you prove that this is good? (Zhang, NGO) I came from a nursing background and there, it is very much evidence-based practice. Well, I don’t see why we can’t do the same in social work. I don’t

564 Liz Beddoe see why we can’t say we make a difference. If we can’t then do we make a difference? Are we just waltzing round talking to people and trying to make them feel better? (Maree, health)

The problems of the right kind of evidence to ‘justify’ social work reflected the concerns about the profession’s uptake of research noted in the literature:
I think that we do have to justify why we have done something. I don’t see that we need to be any different from any other disciplines, but even the justification is subjective . . . you know if you give somebody the wrong walking frame they fall over. Well you know there is evidence to say that it was the wrong walking frame. If you are working with someone [in social work] and you ask the wrong questions, well there isn’t a finite set of questions for us to ask (Frances, health).
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Obstacles for practitioners
The obstacles and constraints that affected social workers were those reflected in the literature. Many talked about how the need for social workers to participate in research was not recognised by managers who were very focused on service delivery goals and didn’t see social workers as having valid research activities to pursue:
. . . absolutely unrecognized and I mean I just talk from very personal experience at the moment trying to get a PhD proposal through for a staff member who is set to contribute back to this organization. [It would be] invaluable research about innovative practice in our own organization, that could be world leading (Maggie, statutory social work).

Time was a major issue because of the lack of support:
It took quite a lot of work and tenacity and grit and . . . to do anything you have to be able to do it as well as your normal workload and that is not fair (Practitioner).

Some participants were also conscious of the need to make some form of inquiry into practice a priority; certainly, some managers were advocating that social workers take more of an active role in service development and evaluation and this was often linked to the need for raised expectations of social workers’ skills and focus. Maggie and Claire felt that greater social worker participation and analysis of data were investments into the future:
We have to invest in evaluation and learn what is working and what is it we need to change to make things work better. We need . . . a whole [new] understanding with our practitioners, supervisors and managers as to how they will be developed though time and how they will supported . . . challenged to achieve competent practice and develop best practice (Maggie). We need to be far more focused on results and being able to quantify the results for the organization. You know, why put your money in unless you know are getting a good product? (Maggie)

Investing in the Future 565 I think it is about also social workers getting on to the critical analysis band wagon and being more critical in terms of information capture and what data is already there . . . I also think it is about us thinking in that sphere. I think that we don’t move our brains into that kind of perspective enough (Claire).

Awareness of evidence-based practice
The participants were almost all aware of the evidence-based practice movement, although possibly this was more acutely observed in health and mental health. This is most likely due to the position of social workers as clinicians in multidisciplinary teams and a feature of this group was their greater conceptualisation of evidence—informed practice. Bridget and Collette were well aware of the ideas behind EBP, and accepted the ethical need for better evidence of the effectiveness and impact of social work, but were unsure how front line workers could be involved:
‘Best practice’, ‘today’s practice’—they are all terms that have been floating around for the last couple of years and social workers are starting to see that it applies to them as well. There is not a huge evidence base that social work makes a difference . . .. We need to research longitudinally to see if [we make] a difference . . . time and money and interest and passion would be required to do this (Collette, manager mental health). In our particular part of social work that we do here, you know, there is such a lack of evidence about what we do. We do it because we have to because we don’t know what else to do, but we don’t actually know whether or not the outcomes are any good you know? I mean what evidence we have got suggests that it is crappy outcomes actually (Bridget, manager).

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For Collette and Dave, there were strong links between these evaluative activities and the demands of the new professional environment, and the need for practitioners to meet CPE requirements and competency:
Part of that is I suppose the links with the health professionals’ competency assurances [legislation], that has taken on a whole new meaning around peoples continuing education . . . ensuring that they are keeping up to date with latest trends and working along some evidence-based model (Collette, manager). We tend to rely more on client satisfaction than real effectiveness on the job . . . I suppose if you’re going to be really honest, we do have to be accountable for results and that’s something everybody struggles with (Dave, NGO manager). You have an opinion; well what have you based that opinion on? That’s what we are trying to get people to do—actually demonstrate how they have reached that opinion . . . it may not be right, but if you can at least show your reasoning then it protects you as a clinician (Sandy).

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Maree felt that evaluation research on social work practice was an imperative but recognised it was not easy to research outcomes in complex work:
What if we could say that we actually reduced the number of unhappy clients or potential litigation where social work is involved? Or work with families around difficult issues, things like that and they say ‘oh it’s too difficult to prove’ and I say but we could . . . look at what the outcomes for families are. We could start with all those things that are too hard to measure. I just feel like there’s not a commitment to it (Maree).

Questioning EBP
As noted earlier, the development of evidence-based practice has been the subject of prolonged debate in the profession. Humphries (2003, p. 84) notes that a ‘bemusing’ aspect of the discussion about social work embracing:
. . . a version of positivism is that in doing so it ignores the epistemological and methodological debates that have been ongoing for over half a century (see Gouldner, 1973). The version of positivism, dominant in ‘evidence-based’ practice, is based on the assumption that research in the social sciences is essentially the same as research in the natural sciences, and that the same rules should apply.

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Several participants did have some critical questions about the adoption of EBP, reflecting their value driven desire for person-centred or participatory approaches to social inquiry. There was an awareness of the debates and some sympathy for a critique of narrow positivist approaches:
There’s a really strong critique, which basically says that EBP really doesn’t compare one practice with another. All it does it says with a group of y, it gets x results, and in many ways it’s kind of . . . not meaningless but, it’s not sound. There’s another school that talks about practice-based evidence which is much more about being informed by the client (Dave). I think there is a lot of value in EBP, but at the same time, a lot of therapeutic approaches don’t necessarily lend themselves to being measurable . . . so you get things that fit really well with a scientific model and they become seen as inevitably the best. The inference is it’s best, whereas I think it entirely possible that these other approaches don’t lend themselves to being broken down . . . they might be great approaches but maybe the scientific instruments haven’t got to a point where they are able to measure those things yet (Group member).

Dave also questioned the fit of attempts to codify approaches to working with people and links this to the concerns raised many times in the literature (e.g. Berger, 2010) that research that doesn’t actively work with service users is incongruent with social work values:
There’s 450 different approaches [to psychotherapy], research shows that actually none of them can prove any more effective . . .. So what you do is ‘manualise’ treatment or intervention, and you’re just applying a method,

Investing in the Future 567 you’re not actually even dealing with a person so it’s totally incongruent (Mental health practitioner). I think that I guess [a key question is] whose research? And what research? The best research is probably at the moment with clients on an ongoing basis. [Research is] always about experts researching on people who don’t always get the feedback or anything like that so it just doesn’t really fit (Dave).

Participants in a mental health setting group interview made links between EBP and practice values:
I’m just thinking about my place of work, working alongside largely nurses and they talk about EBP a lot, but then it makes me laugh because they’ll do some things that are like expedient, or because of cost and they don’t think ‘hey that’s not what we were saying’ (Group member). I often think that when we sit in a multi-disciplinary team next to the psychiatrist and the psychologist that they are very evidence-led. And that we become quite scientific ourselves which at times might actually be a problem I don’t know (Group member).

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The influence of organisational factors in research activity
The organisational context of social work practice is significant in the broad discussion about research and reflects the findings of the literature on practitioner research. Factors traditionally cited for low levels of activity are lack of a research culture, time, lack of support and research activity not being seen as ‘core business’ (McCrae et al., 2005; Lunt et al., 2008; Mitchell ´ , 2009). Participants in this study cited all these et al., 2008; Lunt and Fouche aspects as significant to them. Some managers felt they had some discretion to try to assist, despite organisational issues:
I have got some staff doing postgraduate study and while the organization doesn’t necessarily have the commitment to it, I have a personal commitment at least to try and make the time available (Bridget, manager). Social workers want [support] to do a masters degree but it is not really seen as something that would come back to the organization . . . it looks like a lot of time out of work and a lot of cost for little return for the organization (Claire).

The social work culture and confidence to do research
This study supports the findings of McCrystal (2000) and Joubert (2006), both of whom report the lack of social worker confidence and skill in research activity. While generally participants were enthusiastic and confident about research, scholarship and even reading journal articles and professional writing were seen as barriers to participation:

568 Liz Beddoe I don’t think it is even in the vocabulary of most of the people who work here and I feel a bit powerless to know how to actually bring it into existence . . . there are some social workers who are good at looking up the evidence and making a personal judgement . . . but most people don’t even really know how to start the process (Megan, health manager). What we’re doing constantly is just responding to crisis and that opportunity for pause and reflection and reading . . . it is not supported by the wider organization (Mandy). People say you should write it up, I don’t see you publishing in the Social Work Review . . . but for practitioners we don’t sort of make that our priority (Cindy).
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What might help raise confidence?
Participants were asked what resources might assist in raising confidence to carry out these activities:
My guess would be to put more of an emphasis on sociology in the [social work qualifying courses] and research methodology and action research so it isn’t a dirty word or people can’t do it. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, just teaching them how to question and critically evaluate what they are doing (Collette).

Time is a major factor and participants frequently made mention of the impact of workloads and pressures to do more direct practice limiting follow-up of good ideas such as writing up good practice or challenging cases. Berger (2010, p. 181) notes that in social work, ‘a major facet of the professional knowledge is the emphasis on strengthening relationships and the use of relational systems as a vehicle for the achievement of change’ and the social worker below comments about how challenging it is to write about successes, where new understandings might be developed:
We worked with a family who come back from no relationship at all to a relationship and that journey I think was really interesting. I would have loved to have supported the social worker . . . to write it up and present it. But in this place, the idea is there but you know you have to work 60 hours and [it’s hard] to do any of that kind of extending of the work or writing about the work, other than just the life saving stuff (Group member).

In a similar vein, another practitioner comments:
I think there is a need for more writing up of case studies . . . creating a culture of learning. But I see many barriers, time and energy, because social work can be so energy sapping (Lucky).

As a consequence, social work knowledge built from the ground up remains hidden. The desire to utilise the knowledge gained through experience and reflections on successes as well as failures was a feature of this study and is reported in detail elsewhere (Beddoe, 2009, 2010). Mentoring support was

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noted as offering significant potential for practitioners wishing to write up practice reflections or projects. This echoes the findings of Lunt et al. (2008). The comments that follow indicate that there is a lack of confidence amongst practitioners in their ability to write for professional publication. There is also some indication that reluctance also reflects practitioner motivation:
When I have talked to the social workers about ‘let’s write about this’, there is a sense that that is something that other people do . . . and nobody has ever said I will give you a hand to write that up? There is no space made for it, or support so you have to be hugely internally motivated (Jenny). I think one of the biggest problems is people’s attitude. I think it is the motivation to make it happen . . . I just do think that . . . it would only need a tiny resource to bring it all together and it could be great. I think it’s so close—at our fingertips (Maree).

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Status, other professions and research
Many of the participants made comparisons with other professions with respect to research and scholarship. Bill felt that social work was really limited in its engagement with research, even in the health environment, in which evidence-based treatment is so dominant:
I think research is an area we need to develop but I think that it would be seen in terms of paralleling other professions, particularly doctors it would be kind of a kudos thing really (Summer). Jeepers look at them, medicine, nursing, they have got a significant research base, and it is well integrated with [universities] through joint [clinical and teaching] positions. People on the inside with this focus . . . helping practitioners to do the research and to be trained in the learning environment . . . that is what we should have for social work . . . we do not have a social work institute to do research. Where is it? That is what we need (Bill).

Bill also made a comparison with the education sector, where he noted the strength of the teaching profession’s engagement with scholarship and research:
Look at education, a huge resource going into [professional development] I mean I don’t know half of what is going on there but my impression is, the institutes, but the level of research, the bodies, the policy that gets developed, the training opportunities . . . (Bill).

Claire was conscious of a discrepancy in the way in which social workers were treated in terms of resources and some of this is that social work was just not seen as research-active:
With people in the organization who are funded to do research, they get support, they get funding, they get some time and you know they get

570 Liz Beddoe somebody to type everything up for them, somebody to help them. Social work is not seen as an area that needs to do research but I think it really is (Claire). One of our social workers has developed evidence-based practice around some work with young families but she has [only] been able to do that because it is a specialized area and it is well funded. Whereas in a community team I am sure there would be social workers who would love to do that, but that is not really what their role is (Sally, mental health).

Where levels of qualification were higher and there was a culture of postgraduate study, there was greater acceptance of EBP as a fact of life in the professional culture, even if there was some cynicism:
It wouldn’t be acceptable to not be evidence-led . . . around here. I mean you just wouldn’t survive, whereas in [statutory agency] . . . you don’t have those sorts of professions around, you are not surrounded by scientists the whole time (Dianne, mental health).
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One group interview participant acknowledged the change in her thinking in a mental health role:
It is interesting when you talk about evidence-led and now I notice it has become a natural part of my thinking around my work. . . . I definitely think that before coming into this job, if I heard ‘evidence-led practice’ you know I would think that is not for me, here I stand with my social work values conflicting. Well sometimes social work and science have conflicted (Dianne, mental health).

In a similar vein, another worker acknowledged the real impact of EBP policy on practitioner choice. Practitioner autonomy and wisdom grounded in experience might be rejected as:
Within this environment I can see that there are possibly approaches to therapeutic intervention for which I wouldn’t apply for funding because it probably wouldn’t fit with the model (Group member).

Youll and Walker (1995) argued that the ‘hallmarks of advanced practice— whether as social work managers, practitioner, educator or researcher—are the capacity for reflection, systematic review and critical analysis used in the development of responsive and innovative services’ (Youll and Walker, 1995, p. 203). Youll and Walker found an individual motivation amongst their postgraduate students to critically appraise their agency’s practices and policies (Youll and Walker, 1995, p. 206). This aspect was not present in these discussions about research and scholarship. New Zealand social workers are so acutely aware of the contextual issues that they frame their interest in research in more pragmatic terms. While practitioners and managers recognised the importance of further education in developing individual

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careers, this was rarely problematised except in terms of access to resources. Managers and practitioners alike were most often seeking learning opportunities to meet immediate needs on the job and to build expertise. Despite the advent of registration, participants felt the profession lacked a clearly articulated pathway of professional development. As I wrote in a field note:
It is so ‘hit and miss’. Jo social worker was lucky enough to land a job here and yet if she went down the road she would find colleagues she trained with and they say ‘oh you are so lucky’!

Two practice leaders, France and Dave, stood out as articulating a concern about weak practitioner critical perspective as they became immersed in the demands of everyday practice and captured by institutional definitions of their role and identity. There is a sense of disjuncture between the professional education environment where Munford (2003) argues ‘striving for a social work that remains critical and self-reflective, and engaged with many bodies of knowledge’ and the world of practice, which ‘is often in conflict with a view that remains focused on the pragmatic and technocratic’ (Munford, 2003, p. 50). Scholarly activity was not presented as an ethical imperative, and seemed remote from the world of every day practice. Many participants had an ambivalent and limited engagement with research and scholarship and lacked confidence; they felt they lacked the vocabulary of scholarship to engage in scholarly conversation in daily practice. Others expressed frustration, especially noticeable in the comments that addressed me personally. Riach (2009, p. 361) describes such comments as ‘sticky moments’, understood as ‘participant-induced reflexivity . . .. These [are] often triggered by the research theme itself’. In this study, one example was Jenny’s comment about writing:
. . . that is what people like you do Liz, it is not what people like us do and there is an idea that you have to talk about the theory as opposed to what you actually doing.

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Those who were more aware were focused on reactive responses to the evidence-based practice movement, with only a few critical interpretations differing from the standard rationale of proving ‘what works’ and a neo-liberal ideology of justification of professional activity in metrics rather than humanistic or progressive ideas. In general, there was a separation of knowledge from decision making. Van de Luitgaarden (2009, p. 256) suggests that a greater focus on ‘developing individual workers’ decision making in such a way that corresponds to the ways in which experts take decisions in real-life settings’ would stimulate expertise and utilise more naturalistic models of best practice.

This pragmatic, status-based approach to research and scholarship perhaps reflects the preoccupation of social workers at the time. They were immersed

572 Liz Beddoe

in reacting and adapting to changes brought about by the new demands of an intensified professionalisation project. It would be useful to test this out through a further small study. In addition, Green and Thorogood (2004) remind us that ‘the researcher is part of the process of producing data and their meanings’ (Green and Thorogood, 2004, p. 194) and during the conduct of the study the author held multiple roles within the milieu being studied: social work academic, researcher and a member of several professional organisations. Though not anticipated at the onset of the research, which was for a doctorate, the author became a member of the Social Workers’ Registration Board. These roles, memberships and basic stance on many major issues may well have been known to many participants. An additional caution may be that the study participants, while responding freely to a general call for people to participate in the study, generally had some attributes in common. They were mostly degree-qualified and many were members of the professional social work association. Many held leadership roles and were thus more likely to hold or be undertaking postgraduate qualifications. As such, the participants perhaps do not reflect the same average breadth and depth of experience that might have been achieved had the study utilised a randomly selected group of social workers. On the plus side, they were all strongly motivated to talk about continuing education and the profession.

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Social workers felt they were seen as less than intellectually robust, were conscious of their lack of confidence and prone to defend by reverting to practical conceptualisations of social work activity. A second and reasonable claim is that social workers largely lack the resources—time, money, access, skills and confidence—to ensure their work is underpinned by scholarship and research. These findings support the movement to develop strategies to grow research confidence and capacity in the practitioner com´ and munity (McCrystal, 2000; Lunt et al., 2008; Mitchell et al., 2008; Fouche Lunt, 2009; Lunt et al., 2009). Leadership of this effort needs to be directed closer to the front line of practice through collaborative relationships between academics and research teams to encourage more scholarly activity in practice and grow a research agenda, generated by the questions in the field and focused on the needs of service users.

The helpful comments and suggestions of the reviewers and suggestions made by Drs Jane Maidment and Jan Duke, on an early draft of this article, are gratefully acknowledged.

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