Developing an international evidence base for social work
I’m at the 2nd European Conference for Social Work Research in Basel, Switzerland, where researchers from Europe and beyond are sharing insights from research with a view to enhancing social work practice.
The conference theme is: Social work research in local, national and international contexts: the challenges of comparison and generalisation. The conference programme and book of abstracts illustrate the diversity of papers please take a look.
I’m giving a paper tomorrow about the Connecting People study. The abstract for the paper is as follows:
From national to international: using ethnographic methods to develop standardised interventions to enhance the international evidence base for social work
Evidence-based social interventions are not widely embedded within social work practice. There are a number of reasons for this including scepticism about the paradigm of evidence-based practice within the profession; a paucity of evidence-based social interventions to use; and the apparent incongruence of using standardised approaches to address complex and ‘messy’ social problems. The lack of portability of interventions from one context to another also hampers the development of an international evidence base for social work.
The Connecting People study, funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research School for Social Care Research, aimed to develop a standardised social intervention to support young people with psychosis develop their social networks. It used ethnographic methods to gain a rich understanding of existing good practice in this field and the contexts in which this was situated. This paper presents the findings of this ethnography of social care practice in six agencies in the voluntary and statutory sectors in England. It will discuss the main themes emerging from interviews and observations with over 60 workers and 50 service users gathered over a period of twelve months. We will also present the intervention model which emerged from these findings, which dynamically relates the practice of workers to a cycle of change for service users, in the context of outward-facing agencies. Finally, we will introduce the intervention manual which is in the process of being refined in focus groups and in a Delphi consultation in preparation for piloting.
We will argue in this paper that this rigorous process of intervention development lends itself to replication in multiple international contexts. Although the social work practice described in the intervention manual may not be appropriate in different cultural or policy contexts, the underlying theory of change it is based upon may be relevant across borders. Using practice wisdom, or a similar ethnographic study, standardised interventions could potentially be adapted to meet local needs. This is yet to be fully tested, although pilot work is underway in Malawi and India to explore the potential of adapting the Connecting People Intervention for use there.