The research industry
‘Research industry' in a social sciences research context refers
The term industry also conveys the sense that research production is widespread,
ongoing and reflective of the mixed economy of provision found in other
areas of social care.
- the money that is spent on commissioning and producing research
- the specific skills required to deliver research, and;
- the products that are generated in the form of research findings,
evidence and outcomes.
Large amounts of public and private money are spent on research. In
social and public policy the amounts are smaller than for other subject
areas such as medicine and science, but nevertheless do signify a great
deal of activity. Research funding is predominantly used to employ researchers.
The commissioning of research through formal tenders is often a highly
competitive process with commercial research organisations, self-employed
researchers (such as JM Consultants who undertook the review of the
Diploma in Social Work), charitable organisations and universities competing
for contracts. In this context the organisations bidding are engaged
in profit-making enterprise. There is pressure on both private companies
and higher education institutions to win research contracts for commercial
However the majority of funded health and social care research is undertaken
in universities. They may employ Research Assistants to work on a particular
project, or Research Fellows employed solely to undertake research.
Doctoral and post-doctoral students contribute significantly to the
creation of new research. Other academic staff may use research grants
to ‘buy out' some of their other day to day tasks such as teaching
or tutoring in order to undertake research. Research in universities
in this context is not for profit, and benefits from drawing upon the
infrastructure of the institutions such as libraries, computing facilities
and staff expertise. Apart from those undertaking the research, the
costs of research include all the support staff who are vital to the
One cost that is frequently overlooked is that associated with the
participation or involvement of service users in research. Disability
rights groups have highlighted that much research is undertaken on the
assumption that service users, such as people with disabilities and
older people, have nothing better to do with their time than to talk
to researchers. If people are to attend an interview or focus groups
they may well need help with travel, the cost of personal carers and
in some cases compensation for loss of earnings. More attention is being
given now to participation by service users in the design, delivery
and dissemination of research.
Service user organisations and groups are showing an increased interest
in undertaking research either independently or in partnership. For
example the Centre for Disability Studies at the University
of Leeds was originally established in 1990 within the Department
of Sociology and Social Policy as a research unit for the British
Council of Disabled People (BCODP).
Dissemination of findings
Another aspect of the research industry is the product. The key objective
of undertaking research in social work and social care is to discover
new knowledge and bring about change, but to do so research has to be
disseminated. To this end, reports of research findings are often made
available free of charge, although usually it is the summary which is
widely disseminated. In the past hard copies of full research reports
were available to purchase at very high prices but with the rapid rise
in the use of information technology they are now generally available
on web sites (such as the
JRF web site or the Department
of Health and the Research
in Practice updates). Summaries of current research are also published
regularly in Community Care and by Social
Care Online (formerly the Electronic Library for Social Care - eLSC)
as a major resource for accessing up to date research findings.
The ESRC maintains Regard,
a comprehensive Research Database.
A further route to dissemination is the involvement of researchers in
writing more substantive texts, either putting the research into a context,
such as policy development, or developing good practice from the research
findings. An example of this is the book series published by Ashgate
in collaboration with the former Centre for Evaluative and Developmental
Research (CEDR) at the Social Work Studies Division at University of
Dissemination also includes conference presentations and similar outlets.
Again, service users are playing a greater part in research dissemination.
For example an evaluation
by the Division of Social Work Studies at the University of Southampton
of Southampton Behaviour Resource Service included in the costs
of the study a conference and additional publication. Young people and
parents who were service users were part of the conference planning
group and delivered presentations. The researchers also worked with
staff and service users to produce a compilation publication of more
than 30 contributions, which added a rich set of voices and perspectives
to the main body of the research findings.
In recent years the commitment of the Department of Health to evidence-based
practice has meant that another branch of the research industry has
developed. Organisations have been funded to bring to practitioners’
attention significant research findings and to promote high quality
research. These include Research
in Practice and the Social
Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).
The third aspect of the research industry is concerned with the skills
necessary to undertake research. There are a growing number of courses
and publications designed to help individuals undertake research. Opportunities
exist for social work practitioners to undertake doctoral studies either
full or part-time. There are also a number of Masters programmes in
research methods, either generally in social sciences research (see
of Surrey) or specifically in research methods for social and health
care (see MSC
in Professional Studies Research Methods stream at the University
of Southampton). In the case of specific courses they often also offer
a CCETSW Post Qualification or Advanced Award.