Knowledge-Production Processes in Practice Research – Outcomes and Critical Elements
The welfare sector has seen considerable changes in its operational context. Welfare services respond to an increasing number of challenges as citizens are confronted with life’s uncertainties and a variety of complex situations. At the same time the service-delivery system is facing problems of co-operation and the development of staff competence, as well as demands to improve service effectiveness and outcomes. In order to ensure optimal user outcomes in this complex, evolving environment it is necessary to enhance professional knowledge and skills, and to increase efforts to develop the services.
Changes are also evident in the new emergent knowledge-production models. There has been a shift from knowledge acquisition and transmission to its construction and production. New actors have stepped in and the roles of researchers are subject to critical discussion. Research outcomes, in other words the usefulness of research with respect to practice development, is a topical agenda item. Research is needed, but if it is to be useful it needs to be not only credible but also useful in action.
What do we know about different research processes in practice? What conceptions, approaches, methods and actor roles are embedded? What is the effect on practice? How does ‘here and now’ practice challenge research methods? This article is based on the research processes conducted in the institutes of practice research in social work in Finland. It analyses the different approaches applied by elucidating the theoretical standpoints and the critical elements embedded in them, and reflects on the outcomes in and for practice. It highlights the level of change and progression in practice research, arguing for diverse practice research models with a solid theoretical grounding, rigorous research processes, and a supportive infrastructure.