Evidence Based and Knowledge Based Social Work: Research Methods and Approaches in Social Work Research

Evidence Based and Knowledge Based Social Work: Research Methods and Approaches in Social Work Research

Evidence Based and Knowledge Based Social Work: Research Methods and Approaches in Social Work Research

Evidence Based and Knowledge Based Social Work: Research Methods and Approaches in Social Work Research


Policymakers in welfare democracies throughout the world are raising questions as to whether welfare systems deliver what the public expects, and focus attention on increasing costs. Social workers need more evidence and knowledge about an increasing diversity of social work practices.Users of social welfare are increasingly individualized and made responsible for choosing and delivering their own service through contacts, and this makes politicians, social workers and users more interested in evidence and knowledge about social services, even though these interests are often conflicting. These tendencies might be part of the reasons why the evaluation of social work practice seems to be characterized at present by a variety and diversity of research methods, approaches and theories.Politicians, social workers and researchers more and more often use the term knowledge-based instead of evidence-based when they describe the practice they aim to develop through research. This is often an expression of a broader perception of research approaches that can help to produce the required knowledge.The contributors to this book hold a diversity of positions on evidence-based and knowledge-based practice.


This introduction opens with a brief glance at social work and sociology at Chicago early in
the 20 Century. This depicts a developing vision of social work research that was shaped by
the context in which it was found. Second, it entails a vision of what constitutes good social
work research – of a discipline that is distinct yet interdependent with the cluster of emerging
disciplines around it – political economy, sociology, philosophy, and the like. Third, it is a story
of contested discipline recognition. Taking the UK as an example, we elaborate a definition of
the nature of social work research, followed by an introductory consideration of three questions:
What makes for good quality research and do the same criteria apply to all methods of inquiry?
What guiding principles are likely to make for the best social work research? How can we place
all of these issues in the context of a national research strategy for social work? Finally, all the
articles in this book will be introduced. They are all engaged with discussing concrete examples
of developing research methodology, different research approaches and other issues that relate
to evidence-based practice and knowledge-based practice regarding social work

A moment in the history of social work

Chicago from the closing years of the 19 Century to the 1930s was a melting pot. By the close of this period the population was already more than three million, and included seven very large immigrant groups. There was a sense of urban crisis in the air. Chicago University was founded in 1890 as a Baptist institution by William Harper, its first president. He wanted the university to be marked by fundamental research/ training and the improvement of society. The city of Chicago as context was central to much of this development. ‘All of social life was here and being investigated by sociologists’ (Plummer 1997, 8). Plummer expresses it nicely as a place where ‘a world of strangers and danger merges with a world of diversity and innovation. Here was the pathos of modernity’ (Plummer 1997, 7). The Progressive movement in American politics thrived here.

Informed by the work of Charles Booth in London, Jane Addams and her colleagues at the Hull-House Settlement in Chicago mapped the structure of the whole city in ways that were subsequently adopted by Chicago sociologists. Published in 1893, the ‘Hull-House Maps and Papers’ were intended by their writers to ‘combine scientific and objective observation with ethical and moral values to generate a just and liberated society’ (Deegan 1991, 39). The women at Hull-House Settlement were . . .

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