Social work knowledge building

Social work knowledge building

The International Federation of Social Workers states, of social work today,

"social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes."cite web|title =Definition of Social Work |work=IFSW General Meeting in Montréal, Canada, July 2000 |publisher = [ International Federation of Social Workers] |date =04/10/2005 |url = |accessdate =2008-02-19]

The impetus for both movements was the glaring reality of social problems and the question over how to best attack them. This debate is arguably the earliest example of a larger debate within social work – how is knowledge acquired? This debate pits positivism against post-positivism in the pursuit of achieving respect as a profession. The positivistic argument asserts knowledge has to be observable and testable (quantitative), free from bias, and ultimately replicable if it is to have any merit. Post-positivists argue there is no way to completely eliminate bias, and knowledge can be obtained via qualitative research methods.

The debate reached its greatest intensity in the 1980s, reflecting the debate within the larger world of the social sciences. Subsequently, most of those interested in social work knowledge building have joined in a consensus that both perspectives are necessary to fully understand the complex realities encountered by social work practitioners. Today, most text books intended for social work research courses, while they may devote more pages to quantitative approaches, also include one or more chapters on qualitative approaches, and make an effort not to favor one over the other. [ [ Council on Social Work Education] ]

Meanwhile, practitioners, and often educators in social work practice, have felt left out of the debate. A frequent complaint was that social work programs were favoring research over practice skills in faculty hiring, thus weakening their ability to teach practice skills to new practitioners. The reliance among practitioners on shared practice wisdom, and the development of skills and techniques through clinical supervision and mentorship was not considered as valid as knowledge building by either camp. There have been attempts to bridge the gap between practice-based knowledge and knowledge obtained through more formal research approaches. One such strategy is single-subject research--also known as Single Subject Design (SSD), in which the clinician, working together with the client, carefully specifies a target of intervention, then measures its frequency, duration, intensity, or any relevant characteristics during a baseline period when no intervention is tried. Following this, an intervention is introduced, and measurement of the target problem is continued. Two claims made for SSD were that it would improve clinical work, since effectiveness of interventions could be determined, and that single cases could be aggregated into research reports, which, published, would constitute an empirically verified set of interventions for clinical use. Although SSD has been championed by social work graduate programs for more than two decades, there is little evidence that it has been widely adopted by social work practitioners.

The current state of social work professional development is characterized by two realities. There is a great deal of traditional social and psychological research (both qualitative and quantitative) being carried out primarily by university-based researchers and by researchers based in institutes, foundations, or social service agencies. Meanwhile, the many social work practitioners continue to look to their own experience for knowledge. This is a continuation of the debate that has persisted since the outset of the profession in the first decade of the twentieth century.cite journal| last = Parker-Oliver | first = Debra| coauthors = Demiris, George | title = Social Work Informatics: A New Specialty | journal = Social Work | volume = 51 | issue = 2 | pages = 127-134 | publisher = National Association of Social Workers | date = April 2006 | url = | accessdate =2008-02-19 ] One reason for the practice-research gap is that practitioners deal with situations that are unique and idiosyncratic, while research deals with regularities and aggregates. The translation between the two is often imperfect. A hopeful development for bridging this gap is the compilation in many practice fields of collections of "best practices," largely taken from research findings, but also distilled from the experience of respected practitioners.


Further reading

*cite book | last=Specht | first=Harry | coauthors=Courtney, Mark E. | title=Unfaithful angels : how social work has abandoned its mission | location=New York | publisher=Free Press | year=1994 | isbn=0029303559

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