Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Evidence in Practice: On Knowledge Use and Learning in Social Work
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6784-0133
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Evidens i praktiken : En studie kring kunskapsanvändning och lärande i socialt arbete (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

Against the backdrop of the transformations in the entire framing of professional work, social work has come under close scrutiny in many countries, including Sweden. Doubts have been raised about practitioners’ existing knowledge base, and the importance of practitioners engaging in learning and the renewal and extension of professional capacities has been emphasized.

The present thesis concerns knowledge use and learning in the daily practices of child investigation work. The aim is to explore processes of knowledge use and learning in practice. The study is based on a mix of qualitative approaches, basically from ethnography, comprising methods such as participant observations, interviews, reflective dialogues and documentary analysis of case data.

The main findings demonstrate that investigation work is characterized mainly by the use of practice-based knowledge. Research-based knowledge is predominantly used as a means of explaining a client’s situation or to underpin and legitimize one’s own beliefs and decisions made on other grounds. Professional learning is largely adaptive in character, as the social workers learn to handle tasks in a fairly routinized way on the basis of rules or procedures that draw on existing knowledge in the practice setting.

Two conclusions are drawn: First, the use of knowledge in child investigation work bears little resemblance to principles of evidence-based practice. Second, the reproduction of professional knowledge is largely implicit and taken for granted. The study offers insight into the much-discussed topic of putting knowledge into practice, which is of importance to strategies for organizing profes sional learning and knowledgeable practice.

Abstract [sv]

Ett i allt högre grad vetenskapsbaserat samhälle har lett till att kunskapsbasen i många verksamheter ifrågasatts, däribland socialt arbete. Avhandlingen behandlar kunskapsanvändning och lärande i utredningsarbetet inom den sociala barn- och ungdomsvården. Syfte är att öka kunskapen kring hur individer använder kunskap och lär sig i och genom sin dagliga praktik.

Avhandlingen baseras på fyra delstudier som genomförts i tre svenska kommuners socialtjänst. Det empiriska materialet består av deltagande observationer, intervjuer, reflekterande dialoger och dokumentanalyser. Studien tar sin utgångspunkt i ett kognitivt perspektiv på lärande med teoretiska rötter i pragmatism. Ett grundläggande antagande bakom studien är att lärandet utgår från hur individen tolkar och förstår den situation som hen möter och därefter handlar.

Resultaten visar att utredningsarbetet företrädesvis baseras på praktikbaserad kunskap som erhålls från tidigare erfarenheter och kollegor. Forskningsbaserad kunskap används huvudsakligen för att bekräfta och legitimera en uppfattning och inte för att ifrågasätta och utmana existerande åsikter och antaganden. Lärandet kan främst karaktäriseras som ett anpassningsinriktat lärande där praktikern med stöd i tidigare erfarenheter och utifrån befintlig kunskapsbas skapar rutiner för att hantera arbetet.

Kunskapsanvändningen inom den sociala barn- och ungdomsvården ligger långt ifrån idealen för evidensbaserad praktik. Reproduktionen av professionell kunskap sker främst implicit och utan frågasättande. Förståelse för praktikers faktiska kunskapsanvändning och lärande har central betydelse för hur verksamheter kan organiseras för att stödja lärande i arbetet.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2015. , 92 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 641Linköping Studies in Behavioural Science, ISSN 1654-2029 ; 192
Keyword [en]
Knowledge, knowledge use, learning, evidence-based practice, social work practice
Keyword [sv]
Kunskap, kunskapsanvändning, lärande, evidensbaserad praktik, socialt arbete
National Category
Pedagogy Sociology
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-117912DOI: 10.3384/diss.diva-117912ISBN: 978-91-7519-088-4 (print)OAI: diva2:811897
Public defence
2015-06-05, Eklundska salen, Hus I, Campus Valla, Linköping, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2015-05-13 Created: 2015-05-13 Last updated: 2015-06-02Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Integrating research-based and practice-based knowledge through workplace reflection
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Integrating research-based and practice-based knowledge through workplace reflection
2012 (English)In: Journal of Workplace Learning, ISSN 1366-5626, Vol. 24, no 6, 403-415 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose – This paper seeks to present a theoretical framework with the aim of contributing to improved understanding of how reflection can provide a mechanism to integrate research-based knowledge with the pre-existing practice-based knowledge.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper begins with an explanation of important concepts: research-based and practice-based knowledge, four levels of action and two modes of learning. Two mini cases concerning managers in the public sector in Sweden then provide an illustration of how research-based knowledge can be utilized to challenge practice-based knowledge. The concluding discussion addresses some of the challenges involved in achieving reflection in the workplace that utilizes research-based knowledge.

Findings – The reflection programmes had several characteristics that facilitated their implementation: they achieved a balance between the workplace demands on the participating managers and time required for the reflection; the participants were specifically recruited, had full management support and were highly motivated to be part of the reflection groups; the facilitators played key roles in structuring the managers' discussions and linking their experiences to relevant research-based knowledge.

Research limitations/implications – Methodological limitations of the cases constrain the conclusions to be drawn from these studies. However, it should be emphasized that the case studies were intended primarily as illustrations of how workplace reflection can be used to integrate research-based and practice-based knowledge. Obviously, there is a risk of social desirability bias because the interviewer was also involved in developing and implementing the reflection programmes. She also participated as a supervisor in mini case 2.

Originality/value – The literature on reflection has largely focused on reflection in the context of education, training and preparing for work or a profession. The role of workplace reflection and learning for practitioners and managers in work has received far less attention. The emergence of the evidence-based practice (EBP) agenda has further highlighted the importance of workplace learning and reflection, as practitioners are increasingly expected to critically appraise research studies and integrate new findings into their practice. A more EBP requires reflecting practitioners who are able to synthesize research-based knowledge with their own practice-based knowledge acquired through experience. However, the process of integrating research-based and practice-based knowledge has not been the focus of much study.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2012
workplace learning, reflection, practice-based knowledge
National Category
Other Social Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-80404 (URN)10.1108/13665621211250306 (DOI)
Available from: 2012-08-26 Created: 2012-08-26 Last updated: 2015-05-13
2. Ways of understanding evidence-based practice in social work: A qualitative study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Ways of understanding evidence-based practice in social work: A qualitative study
2014 (English)In: British Journal of Social Work, ISSN 0045-3102, E-ISSN 1468-263X, Vol. 44, no 6, 1366-1383 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This qualitative, empirical study explores and describes the variation in how evidence-based practice (EBP) is understood in social work. A phenomenographic approach to design and analysis was applied. Fourteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with politicians, managers and executive staff in three social welfare offices in Sweden. The main findings suggest that there are qualitatively different ways in which EBP is understood, described in five categories: (i) fragmented; (ii) discursive; (iii) instrumental; (iv) multifaceted; and (v) critical. The outcome space is hierarchically structured with a logical relationship between the categories. However, the informants found it difficult to account for EBP, depending on what was expressed as deficient knowledge of EBP in the organisation, as well as ability to provide a seemly context for EBP. The results highlight the importance of acknowledging these differences in the organisation to compose a supportive atmosphere for EBP to thrive rather than merely assume the case of evidence-based social work. The categories can be utilised as stimuli for reflection in social work practice, and thereby provide the possibility to promote knowledge use and learning in the evolving evidence-based social work.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oxford: , 2014
EBP, evidence-based social work in Sweden, knowledge, learning, phenomenography
National Category
Social Work
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-87398 (URN)10.1093/bjsw/bcs198 (DOI)000342988900002 ()
Available from: 2013-01-17 Created: 2013-01-17 Last updated: 2015-06-02
3. Knowledge use and learning in everyday social work practice: A study in child investigation work
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Knowledge use and learning in everyday social work practice: A study in child investigation work
2015 (English)In: Child & Family Social Work, ISSN 1356-7500, E-ISSN 1365-2206Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study was to explore knowledge use and learning among social workers in everyday child investigation work. Research was undertaken in two Swedish children’s services departments. The study applied an ethnographic approach. Methods for data collection included interviews, participant observations, reflective dialogues and a documentary analysis of case files. The social workers’ knowledge sources were classified into research-based, practice-based and ordinary knowledge. The findings show that the social workers preferred practice-based knowledge, which was primarily conveyed from colleagues and previous experience, and rarely consulted knowledge from sources found outside the practice setting. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the integration of knowledge was made possible through the social workers' engagement in both a verbal and a more cognitive (tacit) reasoning activity, processes that fostered learning at work. The social workers’ learning was predominantly adaptive as they learned to handle tasks in a fairly routinized way on the basis of rules or procedures. The findings lend support to the notion that the use of different knowledge forms could potentially trigger learning in everyday social work.

Child and family social work, ethnography, reserach in practice, evidence-based practice, knowledge use, learning
National Category
Work Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-115275 (URN)10.1111/cfs.12227 (DOI)
Available from: 2015-03-11 Created: 2015-03-11 Last updated: 2015-05-13
4. Professional Practice as Processes of Muddling Through: a Study of Learning and Sense Making in Social Work
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Professional Practice as Processes of Muddling Through: a Study of Learning and Sense Making in Social Work
2015 (English)In: Vocations and Learning, ISSN 1874-785X, E-ISSN 1874-7868, Vol. 8, no 1, 95-113 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Using an ethnographic approach, the aim of this study was to explore how social workers learn and make sense of experiences in their daily practices. Five events that took place during an ordinary day of child investigation work are described and serve as the basis for the analysis. The findings imply that investigation work is largely a social rationalization process and that the interaction between different actors in work is a strategy to enhance the level of knowledge and contribute to learning among the professionals. Thus, learning is embedded in daily activities, for example, consulting colleagues, framing problems and building relationships. Furthermore, the findings suggest the possibility of assuming a contextualized view of reasoning, a so-called contextual rationality, which maintains that practitioners need to make judgments in a way that is sensitive to and relevant for their own contextualized settings. Contextual rationality is a reasonable strategy to deal with complex problems in daily practices that cannot be completely analysed or solved. Contextual rationality is thus not about accuracy, rather it engages individuals to find meaning and order in the complexity of modern organizations where norms, values and expectations provide frameworks for explanations. Besides offering an explanation for the basis of practice, the study identifies a variety of learning opportunities in everyday practice that could potentially be used in efforts to organize a more reflective practice to facilitate improved workplace learning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2015
Workplace learning, Sense making, Professional work, Contextual rationality, Evidence-based practice
National Category
Work Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-115273 (URN)10.1007/s12186-014-9123-y (DOI)000352484400005 ()
Available from: 2015-03-11 Created: 2015-03-11 Last updated: 2015-05-20

Open Access in DiVA

fulltext(2209 kB)465 downloads
File information
File name FULLTEXT01.pdfFile size 2209 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type fulltextMimetype application/pdf
omslag(193 kB)27 downloads
File information
File name COVER01.pdfFile size 193 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type coverMimetype application/pdf

Other links

Publisher's full text

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Avby, Gunilla
By organisation
Education and SociologyFaculty of Arts and Sciences

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
Total: 465 downloads
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Altmetric score

Total: 3023 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link