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Knowledge, research and practice: a contentious relationship?

As well as claiming an independent knowledge base, social work draws from a range of related social science disciplines including psychology, social policy, sociology and law, within and between which there have been conflicts. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are resulting tensions between knowledge and practice in social work. Research, which is the bridge between these, is also contentious and contested.

When consulted about Research Mindedness, practitioners cite a wide range of factors that act as real barriers to the integration of knowledge and practice. These are:

  • theoretical - what knowledge counts?
  • practical and logistical - how do you gain access to it?

When you think about your own situation, what constraints do you experience (personal, professional or organisational) that impede the development of stronger research-practice links?

CONSTRAINTS TO Research Mindedness cited by practitioners in a project sponsored by CCETSW London and S.E. to explore Research Mindedness.
a. Lack of confidence in interpreting and evaluating research
b. Difficulty in keeping up with the volume of research
c. Difficulty in accessing research literature within the organisation
d. Absence of research culture within the organisation
e. Low status accorded to undertaking/updating research compared to other work
f. No time allocation for practitioner research
g. Research associated with a positivist paradigm which many practitioners view as incongruous with anti-discriminatory practice
h. Increased procedural and managerial control over day to day practice gives little encouragement to innovative and potentially challenging Research Mindedness in practitioners
i. Research is seen as something done by experts
j. Previous research studies have alienated social work practitioners
k. Difficulty in relating research findings to individual service users' lives
l. Small practitioner research studies are undervalued in organisations relative to larger quantitative studies


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