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Research for understanding

The are many different types of research methodologies and areas of research but for the research minded practitioner two broad areas of research are discussed. These are research for understanding and research for decision making. This section is concerned with the first of these and is about acquiring knowledge about society in the broadest sense and about understanding the circumstances and lives of social work service users in a way that informs the basic approach of work. It is clearly related to research for decision making but the latter has a more precise focus on trying to answer questions about how practitioners can intervene successfully in particular circumstances.

Pyramid with Macro highlightedResearch for understanding is also about influencing action at a political or social policy level and may have implications for decision making at an agency policy level. Research should interact with social work theory to shape broad philosophical and methodological approaches to work with service users at a 'Macro-level'. This can be contrasted with Meso and Micro level approaches discussed in the next section.

Examples of research for understanding include research into such broad areas as:

Right facing arrow Child developmental research Right facing arrow Incidence and characteristics of child abuse and neglect
Right facing arrow Family life and patterns of living Right facing arrow Social work theories and practice
Right facing arrow Mental health and ill-health Right facing arrow Social policy
Right facing arrow Organisational behaviour and decision making Right facing arrow Organisation and functioning of social agencies
Right facing arrow Psychology and sociology Right facing arrow Understanding of racism and workings of anti-racist legislation
Right facing arrow Criminology, penology and workings of the criminal justice system Right facing arrow Feminist experiences and perspectives
Right facing arrow Sexuality, sexual orientation and discrimination Right facing arrow Effect of housing policies and legislation
Right facing arrow Drugs rehabilitation services and patterns of drug use Right facing arrow Workings of benefits system
Right facing arrow Gerontology and ageing Right facing arrow Poverty and ill health
Right facing arrow Alcohol issues and services Right facing arrow Employment patterns and legislation

Keeping up to-date

It is impossible for academics, let alone practitioners to keep abreast of all research, even within their own subject discipline. However all of these areas impact on the lives of service users in different ways and social care practitioners need an awareness of broad developments in many of these areas - depending of course on their specialist role.

The reality is that new research information is filtered into public and personal awareness by television, newspapers and other media and though social interaction. While it is easy enough to identify how often the media deals with complex issues in superficial, trivial or sensationalist ways, there are many examples of serious in-depth analyses of issues that can play a significant part in shaping public understanding and perceptions and ultimately of influencing public policy.

Professional awareness also develops through contact with colleagues, team discussions, inter-agency contacts, conferences, training courses, agency practice and policy statements as well as through professional journals. Enhancement of your tacit knowledge through such formal and informal processes should not be underestimated, and for the research-minded practitioner they play a significant part in keeping up with research developments. There are marked contrasts between teams of workers who are engaged in sharing and exploring ideas about the work and those where the focus is only on the day to day practical issues around work. Here are things that can help in being a research minded team:

Team meeting/seminars on issues and research

Team subscriptions to professional journals


Bringing in experts from other agencies

Team co-working and/or research projects
Use of local monitoring and research departments

New intiatives and projects


Team members investigating issues and reporting back

Sharing feedback from conferences
Access to the Internet and knowledge of social work gateways

Access to agency library/resources


Computer information systems on research/policy and practice

Use of abstracts and summary sources

Developing expertise

Social care practitioners at both a team or individual level need explicit, systematic and focused ways of enhancing their knowledge base. There is no one ideal route for doing this but these resources identify different ways in which this can be done. The next section looks at ways of moving from improving your general understanding and awareness into decision making about your work with service users.

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