Written by Elly Robinson1
To what extent is research influenced by practice? This question was uppermost in my mind after attending the Family Relationship Services Australia (FRSA) conference (Nov, 2012), which highlighted the admirable way that the family support sector is currently grappling with research and evaluation.
From the deep complexities that characterise the delivery of human services, the increasing expectation is for organisations to produce objective and cost-effective measures of “what works”.
Over the last twenty years the terms “evidence-based” or “evidence-informed” practice have become common terms to describe the ways in which empirical evidence, client values and expectations and practitioner expertise overlap to inform practice2.
But what of the influence of practice on research, as opposed to research on practice? There is demonstrated benefit in practitioners and service providers considering and utilising an evidence base as part of decision-making.
Yet how often are practitioners asked to have input at the point of formulating a research question, so that the outcomes of research is of maximum use to them?
There is an increasing awareness of the importance of considering research users, and consequently the effective dissemination of research beyond academic journals.
Researchers may garner input from practitioners or form an advisory group to inform the development of the research. But there is still scope to increase input from practitioners in a truly collaborative and equal relationship of inquiry.
Many practitioners feel as though research has little to offer, as it is cumbersome, riddled with jargon and unable to keep pace with the demands of the frontline. It is possible that this scepticism may be offset by more involvement in the establishment of research projects.
If research is not predominantly connected in some way with practice, it can be in danger of failing to be relevant. At best, we will be expecting practitioners to custom-fit evidence that was not developed with an applied end point in mind.
If we ask practitioners to understand and utilise research and evaluation principles in their roles, it doesn’t appear to be too great a stretch to ask researchers to understand and consider how their work may be useful to practice. This relationship can be built as part of the very foundations of good research – at the point of question formulation and as part of a respectful and equal partnership.
Such an arrangement commands a harmonised respect for both professions by both professions – one that is needed for families to benefit from good practice in both arenas.
Thanks to Associate Professor Leah Bromfield (Australian Centre for Child Protection) for her feedback on this article.
1. Elly Robinson is the Manager of the Child Family Community Australia information exchange.
2. For a discussion of evidence-based/evidence-informed practice: Shlonsky, A. & Ballan, M. (2011). Evidence-informed practice in child welfare: Definitions, challenges and strategies. Developing practice, 29, 25-42.