Practitioner research in social care: a review and recommendations

Ian Shaw Completed   2013


Attention has helpfully been given to understanding and promoting the contribution of strong forms of participatory and user research and evaluation, and aspects of this work have increasingly been mainstreamed in the UK. However, little attention has been given to understanding practitioner research in social care as a distinct form of research practice, or to related good practice principles and procedures.


This review aimed to explore practitioner research in social care, critically assessing its value as both a source of knowledge that can be applied to practice and as a template for how practitioners might conduct similar inquiry. Its aims were to:

  1. review and set out the purposes of practitioner research in social care;
  2. assess the challenges, strengths and limitations of practitioner research in social care;
  3. review existing and advisable methods of data collection and analysis for practitioner research in this field;
  4. review existing and advisable forms of training and support for practitioner research, including the roles of universities and social care agencies;
  5. suggest how best to understand and develop the relationships between practitioner research and other forms of inquiry such as user research, academic research and policy inquiry; and
  6. draw together recommendations for good practice.


Overall 72 practitioner research studies of adult social care were identified for inclusion and a systematic extraction of data was undertaken, aided by guidelines and a pro forma to explore the type, nature and quality of published practitioner research.


The review recommended that:

  • Practitioner research should be implemented as a research approach in its own right and not only as a simpler version of academic research
  • Practitioners, managers and commissioners should recognise the heterogeneity of practitioner research in social care
  • As part of that diversity, good practitioner research should address issues of both local application and general interest
  • Practitioner choice of study approaches should be widened to include a more extensive palate of studies including intervention research by practitioners
  • Training workshops in the application of such methods should be supported and resourced in coordination with skilled and experienced practitioner researchers and with strong library access
  • Modest funding streams are required to facilitate a coherent organisational environment for practitioner research
  • The development of supporting material around the experience of doing practitioner research
  • NIHR SSCR, and other interested bodies, embed support functions for practitioner research within organisational roles
  • While articles in refereed journal may be one form of knowledge exchange, recognition needs to be given to the impact of a range of other approaches, whether contributing towards seminars, producing practitioner and agency-facing utilisation documents, or talking to fellow practitioners, service users and managers. In seeing research in its wider context it is important for practitioners to develop a knowledge exchange and utilisation plan for each project.
Practitioner research in social care: a review and recommendations
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