In This Article Practice Research

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Multiple Definitions
  • Selected Methods That Inform Practice Research

Social Work Practice Research
Mike Fisher, Michael J. Austin, Ilse Julkunen, Timothy Sim, Lars Uggerhøj, Nanne Isokuortti
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0232


Practice research focuses heavily on the roles of the service provider and service user who play a major role in defining the research questions and interpreting the findings. Compared to other knowledge production processes that are agency-based, service-focused, client-focused, theory-informed, highly interactive (multiple stakeholders), and designed to inform practice, policy, and future research, practice research makes a unique contribution to the research enterprise. Practice research in the field of social work plays an important role in a continuing search for ways to improve social services that promote the well-being of service users. It often involves collaboration among multiple stakeholders in addition to service providers, researchers, service users, educators (funders, policymakers, agency directors, etc.), while taking into account the power dynamics between service users and service providers with respect to inclusiveness, transparency, ethical reflexivity, and critical reflection. In this relationship, agency practice that fully captures the perspectives of service users as well as providers can inform the education of future practitioners as well as influence research on agency practice and policies. The goal of practice research is to generate knowledge derived from agency-based practice (Salisbury Forum Group 2011, cited under General Overviews). The theoretical frameworks and methodological research tools for engaging in practice research often requires flexible and collaborative structures and organizations (Helsinki Forum Group 2014, cited under General Overviews). Practice research is often a negotiated process between practice (providers and users) and research (researchers and educators) within the context of cross-cultural dialogical communications needed to address the gap between research and practice. In essence, for practice and research to be shared, co-learning, respect, and curiosity are needed to support an inclusive inquiry and knowledge development process that captures the differences and tensions reflected in fundamentally different perspectives (e.g., service user and provider, service provider and researcher, and researcher and policymaker). In addition, practice research is often funder influenced, outcome focused, and change oriented.

General Overviews

Helsinki Forum Group 2014 and Salisbury Forum Group 2011 provide an important overview of the evolution of practice research related to social work. Dodd and Epstein 2012, Marthinsen and Julkunen 2012, Shaw 2012, and Vonk, et al. 2007 are used in teaching practice research, and all references are briefly described.

  • Dodd, S.-J., and I. Epstein. 2012. Practice-based research in social work: A guide for reluctant researchers. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume provides an overview of practice-based research (PBR) for students, researchers, and practitioners who seek to bridge the gap between practice and research, and it illustrates the application of PBR to different practice methods and practice settings.

  • Helsinki Forum Group. 2014. Helsinki Statement on social work practice research. Nordic Social Research 4.1: S1–S7.

    DOI: 10.1080/2156857X.2014.981426E-mail Citation »

    The Helsinki Statement is an update of the Salisbury Statement (Salisbury Forum Group 2011) on the current challenges and directions of social work practice research by identifying both the theoretical and methodological issues facing social work practice research.

  • Marthinsen, E., and I. Julkunen, eds. 2012. Practice research in Nordic social work: Knowledge production in transition. London: Whiting and Birch.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume includes a collection of practice research studies in Nordic countries and provides both theoretical and methodological discussions of practice research as well as examples of practice research studies.

  • Salisbury Forum Group. 2011. The Salisbury Statement. Social Work and Society 9.1: 4–9.

    E-mail Citation »

    The Salisbury Statement, formulated by several social work academics and practitioners from various countries in 2008, introduces the background of social work practice research.

  • Shaw, I. 2012. Practice and research. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

    E-mail Citation »

    This comprehensive analysis is a resource for scholars, students, and practitioners who seek to explore the practice/research relationship in social work in depth. The book covers the following areas: perspectives on social work research, evaluation, qualitative social work research, practice and research, and service users and research.

  • Vonk, E., T. Tripodi, and I. Epstein. 2007. Research techniques for clinical social workers. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume provides an introduction to the use of research concepts and techniques for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting information relevant to clinical social work practice for those interested in integrating research into their practice.

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