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Monitoring and performance indicators

Why are they relevant to research mindedness?

For the research minded student, practitioner or team, monitoring data and progress against performance indicators can be used alongside published research to inform decision making. They can assist in testing the relevance of research findings for local situations and be used as data sources for undertaking research at a local level on personal research. There are many examples of social work students and practitioners become involved in formal or informal research programmes to investigate either the effectiveness of particular initiatives they are involved with, or the personal and social circumstances of particular service users groups. Practitioners often have direct access to valuable data sources that researchers have difficulty in obtaining, which is a good reason for researchers and practitioners to work collaboratively on practice focused research. Being research-minded will help you to recognise the opportunities that may be available to you for research and how to seek support to undertake the research.


Portrait of Henry the 8thGathering monitoring information about the activities of statutory agencies is not new and can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII, and collection of information about the operation of the poor law Steyaert (1997).

Monitoring data has been an important source of data for services and researchers for decades. Data collection has become more sophisticated and extensive as a result of the development of computerised client information systems.



The Information Social Care strategy has been a major initiative by the Department of Health to co-ordinate the modernisation and standardisation of management information systems related to client records. The development of the Electronic Social Care Record is crucial to the success of Information for Social Care. To meet the e-government targets, the ESCR should be operational by October 2004, with all new service user records being created in this form.

The DH has a special section on its website with information about the developments – see Information for Social Care

Alongside these developments have been moves to consider integrated information management between health and social services. These developments should improve the quality and quantity of data available to researchers, if service users consent to access for research purposes.

Arrow denoting a Website linkLooking After Children Computer System. Software that assists collection of data on children in a standard format.

Arrow denoting a Website linkThe Personal Social Services Performance Assessment Framework (PAF) was launched in November 1999 as 'a set of indicators large enough to be comprehensive and small enough to be manageable, to be consistent with best practice and it sits at the heart of performance assessment in a wider sense'. The key elements are shown graphically (courtesy of the DoH).

PAF Framework Diagram

Quality Protects as an example of performance indicators in action

Arrow denoting a Website linkThe 3-year Quality Protects Programme was launched by the DoH in 1998 and was the main vehicle for delivering the aims in Modernising Social Services of effective protection, better quality care and improved life chances for children. Local Authorities who received funding from the programme were required to develop Management Action Plans (MAPs) based on the 6 priorities. These set out how the councils intended to improve their services. An annual evaluation of these plans was undertaken by the DoH.

Please note 12/03: the Department for Education and Skills is now responsible for Children's Social Services and plans are being made to transfer this content from the Department of Health

The pressures to perform

Locally determined indicators may supplement national indicators, but increasingly it appears that standardised monitoring will focus outcomes upon those that directly contribute to achievement of national targets. For the research-minded student or practitioner this means you must take a critical approach to analysis of monitoring and performance data. Questions of bias, validity, relevance and transferability should be addressed Attainment of performance indicators or targets can demonstrate how standards have been raised, though minimum standards may mean there is a need to go further to show real change.


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