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Social Work: Companion Document to the ACRL Framework: 4. Research as Inquiry

Created by the ACRL/EBSS Social Work Committee, 2020

Social Work Perspective

Social Work Practice

Social workers rely on Evidence-Based Practice to demonstrate the efficacy of the services they provide. Social workers and their agencies incorporate evidence into their practice by identifying and translating research; building relationships between practitioners and researchers; collecting and managing data on the individuals, families, and communities in which they work with integrity. To do this, social workers need to keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to their clients. Social workers who can synthesize information from multiple sources, critically assess new professional literature, and re-evaluate previously held conclusions in light of new information, will be effective evidence-based practitioners.

Social workers also draw on their professional knowledge as well as the expertise and lived experiences of their clients and the wider communities they serve. Expertise is also considered from other professions via a multi-disciplinary, cross-collaborative approach. When academic resources are unavailable, social workers utilize open access resources to inform their practice. Additionally, information is acquired in an ethical, legal manner.

Social Work Education

Social work librarians promote the value of open ended questions and the importance of gathering information from multiple outlets and perspectives and gathering information from the perspective of marginalized communities. Social work librarians also emphasize the literature search as an iterative process. Social work librarians guide students in narrowing or broadening initial research questions by helping them ask “increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field” (Frame 4). 

Social work librarians also teach students how to utilize a variety of research methods, including sources that fall outside the academic sphere such as the lived experiences of one’s clients. Further, social work librarians can assist students in developing data curation skills through the use of software applications for bibliographic management, survey design, and quantitative statistical analysis.

Connection to Professional Standards (NASW)

National Association of Social Workers: Code of Ethics

Value: Integrity  

  • “Social workers are continually aware of the profession's mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them. Social workers act honestly and responsibly and promote ethical practices on the part of the organizations with which they are affiliated.”

Value: Competence 

  • "Social workers...develop and enhance their professional expertise [by] continually striving to increase their professional knowledge...should contribute to the knowledge base of the profession."

Ethical Standard 2.03 -- Interdisciplinary Collaboration 

  • “Social workers who are members of an interdisciplinary team should participate in and contribute to decisions...by drawing on the perspectives, values, and experiences of the social work profession.” 

Ethical Standard 4.01 -- Competence 

  • “Social workers should critically examine and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work. Social workers should routinely review the professional literature...should base practice on recognized knowledge, including empirically based knowledge, relevant to social work and social work ethics.”

Ethical Standard 4.08 -- Acknowledging Credit 

  • “Social workers should take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed and to which they have contributed…[and] honestly acknowledge the work of and the contributions made by others.”

Ethical Standard 5.01(b) -- Integrity of the Profession

  • "Social workers should...enhance, and improve the integrity of the profession through appropriate study and research, active discussion, and responsible criticism of the profession.”

Ethical Standard 5.02(c) -- Evaluation and Research  

  • “Social workers should critically examine and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work and fully use evaluation and research evidence in their professional practice.”

Connection to Professional Standards (CSWE)

Council of Social Work Education: Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards

Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior 

  • "Social workers: make ethical decisions by applying...ethical conduct of research."

Competency 4: Engage In Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice

  • "Social workers know the principles of logic, scientific inquiry, and culturally informed and ethical approaches to building knowledge. Social workers understand that evidence that informs practice derives from multi-disciplinary sources and multiple ways of knowing."

Examples of Learning Objectives and Activities

1. Learning Objective: Identify additional questions to original research topic or interest.

  • Activity: Pair with another student and share your research topic with them, even if it is still in the early stages. Ask at least 10 questions of each other about their topic. The aim is to tease out more questions about your initial question to see if you need to narrow or broaden the topic. Based on the 10 questions you asked of each other, were you able to refine or strengthen your initial research question?

2. Learning Objective: Locate a variety of source materials related to your research project.

  • Activity: Instead of going straight to academic databases to locate research on your topic, can you find at least one source on your topic fro the following outlets?
    • .com or another news source (e.g. New York Times)
    • .gov (e.g. statistics from government agencies such as Centers for Disease Control or Children't Bureau)
    • .org (e.g. reports from think tanks; non-profit organizations)
    • Print or eBook
    • in-depth magazine article (e.g. New York Times Magazine; The Atlantic)

3. Learning Objective: Locate and retrieve a research article that exists in a free, open access database that does not require you to log in to your institutional account.

  • Activity: In order to keep current with social work research in the field, can you locate an article on your topic from an open access repository or journal? Try locating one article on your topic in one of the following:
    • PubMed Central
    • ERIC
    • Directory of Open Access Journals
    • Can you locate your institution's open repository?

4. Learning Objective: Identify alternative keywords to the original search terms you started with.

  • Activity: Research is an iterative process, meaning it doesn't end when you've found one article for your topic. Brainstorm some keywords based on your topic and locate at least one article and answer the following questions: What does this article tell you? Based on what you've learned reading the article, what are some keywords you could use to find more articles?