Practitioner research in social services: A literature review (summary)

Summary of a literature review undertaken to establish the context for practitioner research and its impact on practice through identifying practitioner research carried out in a social services context. The review formed part of an evaluation into the initiative taken by Children 1st and the Glasgow School of Social Work to develop a practitioner research programme. The evaluation was commissioned by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) with funding from the Scottish Government's Changing Lives Fund.

The findings include that whilst there is much interest and enthusiasm amongst social workers for conducting practitioner research there are barriers that must be tackled:

1) Resources: including lack of time, research confidence and expertise and difficulties in arranging cover. Obtaining practical support and the reliance on external collaboration and support were also problematic.
2) Professional identity: Social workers may view themselves as helpers rather than intellectuals, and question how research knowledge fits with other sorts of knowledge including intuition, experience, authority, and policy.
3) Organisational system and culture exacerbate difficulties faced around workload, role expectation, and lack of support. Social workers in small, isolated agencies and settings are particularly disadvantaged.

The review identified possible success factors for undertaking PR including:
• working in a close team environment (i.e. small teams of practitioner researchers or forms of peer support) with group ownership and passion for thepractice focus of their projects;
• project milestones to address time management, forward planning and maintaining motivation;
• support of the employing organisation.

Fiona Mitchell
Neil Lunt
Ian Shaw