Keeping up with Research while in Frontline Practice

Gizmo studies Maritime Law

Being based in an ‘integrated’ team alongside NHS staff, I have been frustrated at some of the differences in attitude towards conducting, assessing and discussion of current research as a frontline practitioner. However, this is a better situation to be in than when I was working in a social work team. At least now, I’m aware that there is a difference and by not being given particular time and space to access research articles and journals, I’m being impeded.

While I see colleagues being actively encouraged to undertake research projects, there are no possibilities ever raised for social workers to work in similar ways. This may be wholly about work culture and attitude to research by employers or it may be about professional attitudes to the importance of being updated regarding research but there is a noticeable difference.

I try to remedy this myself and while there will not be time to actively carry out any of the research projects I ponder about – there is nothing as frustrating as seeing the same evidence being published in different ways that tells us nothing that will actually make a difference to the way we practice – I limit myself to literature reviews and trying to keep myself updated with journal articles. Sometimes we discuss them as a team – sometimes I collate the information myself and keep notes on the articles I find. I may even publish some of these literature reviews as blog posts in the future if they would be useful to others.

I used to make considerable use of the British Journal of Social Work but seeing as my access to research literature is limited (possibly like many local authority social workers) to the SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence) Athens scheme and they no longer are able to subscribe to that journal, I have turned to other journals to find and source information that is useful to me. It makes me think less of a journal that would play political games with allowing access or not but it is a sharp and important lesson about the need for practitioners to have good access to information.

I have though through the SCIE scheme found

Aging and Society, Journal of Social Work Practice, Practice and the Mental Health Review Journal have been particularly useful for me. It’s worth checking out the resources available via SCIE as any social worker in England and Wales working for a local authority with a gov.uk email address can gain access to them.

The College of Social Work also enables Athens access for members if the email address is a problem but I believe the list of resources available are the same and there is still a block on the British Journal of Social Work being made available.

SCIE provide useful resources generally and RiPfA have some good outlines and policy updates which can be an excellent way to start discussions and conversations in a local service area. I don’t know much about Community Care Inform as it focuses on Children’s Services but it may be something useful if there were a parallel type service for adult social workers – indeed, I’d be happy to pay, individually, for just such a service.

As an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) and a BIA (Best Interests Assessor)  it is crucial that I am constantly aware of both the latest developments in terms of case law and the new interpretations as they arise – I’d say that it is necessary for anyone working in Mental Health to have a good awareness and understanding of current interpretations of the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act.  I find the 39 Essex Street Court of Protection newsletters very useful to ensure that I am aware of the latest developments. although I do attend both formal and informal training and workshops regularly which focus specifically on case law in these areas.  It is the one area particularly that I find social media enormously helpful – not just in terms of awareness of cases as they arise but as opportunities to discuss them.

Even in the toughest, busiest teams we have to take responsibility for our own learning and ensuring that we do not leave the information and research evidence to pick up cobwebs in the ivory towers of academia. Being a practice educator helps with this as I encourage students to source and discuss recent, relevant research with me in supervision but also try and find some useful and interesting articles myself to discuss.

The benefits of being up to date and knowledgeable about current research are that firstly it encourages competent practice – I don’t think it’s possible to work in a silo of information and evidence that may have been presented when you (we) last studied formally, even if that was a year ago. Things change quickly.

An awareness of research can affect policy and the development of services – I’ve been able to feed into consultations both locally and nationally using references and information that I have gleaned from recent papers and it has added a more authoritative quality to my input. I’ve also been able to discuss and reflect in my own supervision sessions some of the disconnect between what might be positive ways of organising services and the ways things happen in practice.

It has also allowed me to garner a louder voice within the system in which I work. I can build a professional reputation as someone who will invest in my own learning and progress and when I have concerns about the way the organisation might be approaching something, I can back it with references, I’m far more likely to be taken seriously.

We want to create learning organisations but they have to be filled with learning practitioners and standing still is not an option. It doesn’t have to take significant amounts of time although it can if we want it to. It can be about reading through an article with an interesting title and reviewing it mentally before deciding.

One of the chief things I’ve learnt is that just because an article is presented in an academic journal, doesn’t mean it’s well-written or useful. We shouldn’t idolise academics as there is as great a variety in quality as there is in practitioners but there is no doubt that having an active interest in current academic research and debate is the next best thing to being able to be actively engaged in contributing to research.

Perhaps that’s the next step – one day I’d like to see more effort all round to integrate active research into practice but in the meantime I’ll make all the effort I can to ensure that my practice is current and informed.  It helps keep me hopeful and it helps keep me interested.

I’d love to know if anyone else out there has other information or resources that they use to make sure they keep up to date with research while practicing. It’s a vital way of keeping our knowledge fresh and active.

pic by jmatthew3 at Flickr

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5 Responses to “Keeping up with Research while in Frontline Practice”

  1. if we don’t start research topics together, we will never work effectively together.

  2. Agreed employers should be doing all they can to help along with CoSW n BASW given the amount of times we hear you should be using evidence based practice by the way i have got access to Community Care Inform paid by employers some useful stuff but agreed focus is on children and young people

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