Practising social work teaches good bladder control. Social workers run from one bushfire to another, juggle complex, urgent demands and multitask. Lunch is often a sumptuous feast eaten to the accompaniment of one-hand typing and a receiver lodged between the ear and shoulder. Reading, let alone doing research, is the last thing on the mind of most practitioners.
Social workers agree that practice-based research is important but it is really hard to squeeze research into daily work schedules. I practised social work for three decades and it took two to start doing my own research. I wasted a lot of time. As a practitioner, I saw so many core, taken-for-granted aspects of social work knowledge and skills published as new ideas in the publications of other disciplines. This, of course, isn’t the only reason to do research. At the end of the day, it improves practice, benefits our clients and provides evidence that supports what we do. It is also tremendously satisfying. Social work is important and we do have things to say.
Time isn’t the only barrier. Organisational support, expertise, lack of confidence and mentorship are often problems. Social workers are innovative and imaginative when it comes to finding solutions for clients. There is no reason why we can’t use these same skills to generate research as part of our everyday professional practice. Here are some of my ideas.
- Find a mentor. If there are no research mentors in your work place connect with social work schools at universities. Social work academics are very supportive of practitioner research and may work and publish with you.
- Think about research grants. There are grants for practitioners that might provide the means to backfill your position giving you time off-line for research.
- Start small. Test the waters with a small project that is achievable and will result in a publication.
- Pick something that really interests you. Thinking about what eats away at you – that annoying aspect of practice or something you see in your practice that is contrary to what you have read (or not read) – is a good way of developing a research question.
- Don’t work alone. Research with your social work colleagues. If you work in a multi-disciplinary setting think multi-disciplinary research.
- Develop a research culture. Get together with colleagues and put research on the agenda for team meetings and supervision.
- Manage up. Identify key people within the organisation and get them on board. Conducting research of benefit to the organisation helps.
- Be imaginative. Be open to possibilities and develop strategies to make time. One example is a buddy system – an agreement between colleagues where you can cover each other’s work for a day to allow time off-line for research.
- The harsh reality. The harsh reality is you will more than likely have to sacrifice some of your own time. I can only say – it’s worth it.
I would love to hear what has worked for you.