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Case study – integrating research into practice

In this article, you will read about the social work research interest group set up within her local NHS Trust by Karen Nixon, social worker
Photo of a women explaining a concept to someone via a laptop
© Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

As well as sharing your own research, it’s also beneficial to share the research of others. Maybe you have read an article that you found particularly interesting or useful and feel may help others in their work.

As well as the more common methods of sharing research that you learnt about in the ‘Getting your research noticed’ step, there are other ways. Below Karen Nixon, Deputy Dean of the Social Work Academy writes about the research interest group she set up with her local NHS Trust as a method of supporting social workers to integrate research into their practice.

Research Informed Practice Peer Learning Exchange; ‘RIPPLE’ is a meeting of likeminded professionals interested in social work and social care research.

RIPPLE is a peer special interest group with the aim of promoting research activities within the field of social work and social care. This is an opportunity for social work and social care staff with an interest in research to contribute to shared professional development. The group meets monthly to discuss current research papers and activities, share learning and bring research topics for discussion.

Why we launched the RIPPLE group

It is almost impossible for practitioners to keep up to date with all the new evidence within their field of practice. All practitioners encounter questions that arise from real life situations. Evidence-based decision making requires time and up-to-date information to ensure that practice scenarios are addressed by meaningful and appropriate information.

In 2004 the SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) published a review into the use of research within social care. The review said:

“….there is little point in simply turning up the rate at which research flows to the social care workforce – little research in fact has direct applicability, many practitioners are not equipped to digest research, and appropriate support systems are lacking.”

Similarly, a staff survey launched within Midland Partnership Foundation Trust (MPFT) found that practitioners:

  • did not largely use research to inform practice
  • were not particularly encouraged or expected to use research as part of their role.
  • that there was a training need for staff in how to use research to inform practice and how to contribute to research activity.
  • it did, however, show that there was an appetite for research-informed practice alongside a healthy scepticism in terms of balancing competing demands such as time and resources with research participation.

RIPPLE Diagram

Consequently the RIPPLE group was developed to promote evidence into practice environments. This included the use of:

  • research to inform ethical dilemmas and complex work
  • statutory interventions such as AMHP work, MCA assessments and safeguarding
  • social work in health settings and multi-disciplinary environments

Importantly, it was also felt that being more ‘research aware’ would support the identity of social workers both as a profession and as a contribution to more effective organisational policies, processes and structures. That in turn would have a positive impact for both staff and the people we serve.

How the RIPPLE group runs and what we currently achieve as a group:

  • the group meet once a month to discuss research papers and their findings and how – these relate to practice.
  • recent case law, ombudsmen outcomes, news and updates are shared.
  • ideas for research studies are considered; problems in practice where research would be of benefit are also shared.
  • research opportunities within the Trust and wider system are promoted to the wider teams.
  • training and webinar opportunities are shared.
  • case work dilemmas are itemised for discussion
  • information within teams and with colleagues about the importance and relevance of research into practice.

Such groups do not need to be developed on an organisational scale. You could set up something similar within your own team meetings, perhaps one staff member is chosen each week to read an article and share the outcomes with the group. Alternatively, you could choose a complex case to discuss and consider what research you should use to inform your assessment and consequent plan. Another way would be to reflect on a Serious Case Review and the relevant research associated with the case.

Do you have a similar group within your organisation? What do you need consider when setting up such a group? How do you think it would benefit your practice or your team’s service?

© Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
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