In social work and social care we are urged both to pay attention to
'evidence-based practice', to be reflective learners and practitioners
and to see evaluation as an integral dimension to practice. Social work
researchers who are concerned with social justice aim to develop an
anti-discriminatory consciousness to conduct their research in anti-discriminatory
ways. Such an attitude will inform every stage of the research process,
from the conception of the research through the planning to the methods
and reporting. There are a number of principles to keep in mind in conducting
research in an anti-discriminatory way. Some of these are reiterations
of what you have heard in other sections of this resource.
||Knowledge, especially for and about social life, is
not produced in a vacuum - researchers and evaluators as knowledge
producers are located within a complex set of social structures
Their identities, motives and agendas will impact on the questions
they ask, the methods they use and the conclusions they draw. Instead
of an assumption of a neutral, objective stance, anti-discriminatory
researchers need to be concerned with the moral and political questions
that affect the lives of the people being researched, including
understanding how the language of power, oppression and domination
is used. This may lead them to reject some methods as incompatible
with this stance.
||People who are the objects of research are often those in relatively
powerless positions who have no control over how they are represented
in research reports. As a result some research present people's
experiences from the perspectives of dominant cultures and groups.
Anti-discriminatory research will seek to develop methodologies
that are respectful, ethical, sympathetic and authentic.
||Service users and other research participants, have a part to
play in designing and taking part in investigations, rather than
only 'being on the receiving end'. Where possible research should
be a negotiated process between researchers and service users, including
the interpretation of any findings.
||Anti-discriminatory research does not necessarily imply only qualitative
et. al (2000) survey of gay men's health needs, the aims and
design of which were dictated by service users, is an example of
a quantitative study that set out to apply anti-discriminatory principles.
||Social workers and others may be involved in research indirectly,
by being asked to collect statistics and other information, which
may be used for purposes they may not support (e.g. recording immigration
status to be used to identify 'illegal' entrants). They and their
unions need to ask how routinely recorded information is to be used.
||Data protection restrictions have helpfully ensured that information
about service users cannot be used routinely for research or other
purposes for which it was originally intended.
Anyone who aspires to do anti-discriminatory research should ask her/himself
these critical questions:
- Whose research is it?
- Who owns it?
- Whose interests does it serve?
- Who will benefit from it?
- Who has designed its questions and framed its scope?
- Who will carry it out?
- Who will write it up?
- How will its results be disseminated?
If they can be answered with confidence, it is likely the study will
be informed by anti-discriminatory research perspectives.
There is a need for practitioners to become research-minded - to research
and evaluate their own interventions. The process of social work is
as important as the outcomes. 'Evidence-based practice' was based on
a scientific world view that depends on elements of practice being measurable,
quantifiable and controllable. Approaches and methods should be suitable
for an interactive profession concerned with personal change
and social justice. Any anti-discriminatory research or evaluative strategy
needs to challenge scientific and technocratic rationality in the construction
of social problems and their solutions; to aim towards active participation
in struggles for change; and towards an increase in the capacity and
skills of dispossessed people to take action.
Some relevant reading
Disability, Handicap and Society, (1992). 7 (2). Special issue
on emancipatory research.
Fuller,R. and Petch, A. (1995). Practitioner research. Buckingham:
Open University Press.
Humphries, B. & Truman, C. (eds) (1994). Re-thinking Social
Research: Anti-discriminatory Approaches in Research Methodology.
Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Shaw, I. and Lishman J. (1999). Evaluation and Social Work Practice.
Smith, L.T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies. London: Zed
Truman, C., Mertens, D. M. and Humphries, B. (2000). Research
and Inequality. London: UCL Press.