What is Practice Research in Social Work - Definitions, Barriers and Possibilities

Lars Uggerhøj

Abstract

Practice is subject to increasing pressure to demonstrate its ability to achieve outcomes required by public policy makers.  As part of this process social work practice has to engage with issues around advancing knowledge-based learning processes in a close collaboration with education and research based perspectives. This has given rise to approaches seeking to combine research methodology, field research and practical experience. Practice research is connected to both “the science of the concrete” – a field of research oriented towards subjects more than objects and “mode 2 knowledge production” – an application-oriented research where frameworks and findings are discussed by a number of partners. Practice research is defined into two approaches: practice research – collaboration between practice and research – and practitioner research – processes controlled and accomplished by practitioners. The basic stakeholders in practice research are social workers, service users, administrators, management, organisations, politicians and researchers. Accordingly, practice research is necessarily collaborative, involving a meeting point for different views, interests and needs, where complexity and dilemmas are inherent. Instead of attempting to balance or reconcile these differences, it is important to respect the differences if collaboration is to be established. The strength of both practice and research in practice research is to address these difficult challenges. The danger for both fields is to avoid and reject them.


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