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The role of research in adult social work

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Co-production, Communities, Research

Lyn Romeo: Those of you who are regular readers of my reports and blogs will know that one of my priorities continues to be the importance and value of social care research in social work.

So, I am absolutely delighted to host this guest blog from social workers who have fellowships with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). It’s so inspiring to have their contribution.

social work researchers in discussion
Lyn Romeo: “Research is never an optional extra, indeed in these challenging times it is more important than ever”. [Image created by]

Partners in improving research

Over 12 months, we have been supported by the NIHR School for -Social Care Research to test out ways to support practitioners, who remain in practice, to lead the development of research agendas within adult social care.

Based in different settings, each with a different area of interest for our Fellowship, we share a strong belief all social workers should be fully engaged in generating, using, disseminating and embedding research in their professional practice and development.

Working with the James Lind Alliance, Lyn Romeo, the Chief Social Worker for Adults supported the development of the Adult Social Work Priority Setting Partnership, which worked to find out what research needs to happen in future to make social work with adults in England even better.

In 2018, the Partnership published ten priorities for Adult Social Work. This was a global first, as it reflected both the views of people using services and front-line social workers.

The priorities covered questions about how to support the wellbeing and safety of people and carers, frameworks for communication between professionals and people in need of support and legal literacy in ensuring equal treatment for people who may lack capacity to consent to their care and treatment.

A review of the research priorities published in 2022 found they are helping inform ideas for research, however more investigation is needed to answer the questions fully. Further studies are also needed to increase diversity in social work research.

Climbing steps looking through a telescope
The Charter for Social Work Research in Adult Social Care sets out a vision and pathway towards more investment in research, within and across social work. [Image created by]

Charting a course

In 2023, BASW (the British Association of Social Work), supporting local authorities, universities and the NIHR in asserting the importance of research in adult social care, published The Charter for Social Work Research in Adult Social Care.

The Charter sets out a vision and pathway towards more investment in research, within and across social work. Writing in the foreword, Lyn Romeo commented:

“Research is never an optional extra, indeed in these challenging times it is more important than ever”.

Our hope for this Fellowship is that over the next 12 months we will be able to support the development of research skills and capabilities across each of our areas. We want to encourage and inspire more social workers to feel confident in making research part of their everyday practice.

We also hope to encourage senior leaders across the sector to recognise that value that comes from supporting practitioners to contribute to generating new knowledge about social care. Fellowships, running trials, discursive symposia, writing up and publishing findings are all well-established traditions in health care. We hope to seed ideas that should also be commonplace in social care.

If social care knowledge is to be valued on an equal basis to health care evidence, leadership has a role in creating and protecting time for social workers to remain in practice whilst also being able to undertake research as part of their role.

Light bulb on notebook
Ideas and innovation: "Advocate for the inclusion and active involvement of people who experience social work at all stages of a research project." [Image created by]

Research top tips

So, if you want to incorporate research skills and ethical research with a moral purpose into your practice, here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Keep your knowledge up to date by incorporating research summaries and accessible briefings into your supervision, team reflections and as part of your peer reflection to support annual renewal of your social work professional registration.
  • Champion a culture of research within your team and across your wider employer promoting access to resources which support research dissemination.
  • Advocate for the inclusion and active involvement of people who experience social work at all stages of a research project, arguing the value for social work research which supports user led community action.

This blog was created with the contributions of:

Ryan Cowley-Sharp, Associate Director – Social Work, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust

Elaine James, Head of Service – Learning Disabilities and Preparation for Adulthood, Bradford Metropolitan District Council

Karen Nixon, Principal Social Worker – Older People Physical Disability, Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Liza Turton and Rachel Scourfield, Consultant Social Workers and Project Lead Manager, Neath Port Talbot Council


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  1. Comment by Lucy Jacobs posted on

    With the NIHR opening up funding streams via the Doctoral fellowships to Local Authority staff, Practitioners who have an interest in research (but never dreamt of it ever being possible) are now entering the world of research. Just like my humble self (NIHR awardee), I can see first-hand the gaps between social work practice and research, but feel I am now in a better place to propose ideas on how we can build bridges because of the opportunities opened up by the NIHR.

    I am excited for greater collaborations ahead

  2. Comment by Hugh Mclaughlin posted on

    Developing research capacity and capability within practice has never been so important. How do we know if our interventions are actually making a positive impact or not? How do we know if we are not making things worse rather than better? There has never been a time of more opportunities for social workers to engage with research and to build a research informed practice which has our service users knowledges at its core. There are a range of initiatives in different regions in the country so if this interests you keep your eyes open. Also, I noticed that Midland LA's will have access to the BJSW - but wouldn't it be great if the all LA's could negotiate regionally or nationally access to all social work journals with one of their universities for all adults and children's staff. They have it in health why not social care?

  3. Comment by L Connolly posted on

    in your document Proportional assessment approaches: a guide from the Chief Social Worker for Adults and principal social workers
    you state
    You should get consent from people in need of care and support by discussing the sharing of information at the start of conversations

    Consent should never be the lawful bases for processing information for the provision of Adult Social Care for a number of reasons [imbalance of power etc ]
    This derives from from the Public Task [ the care act ] and Article 9 [h]
    However this should not be confused with the transparency of our data sharing... which should be encouraged


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