Research into practice

Partnerships between social care and health are a main policy and practice theme. But we know little about partnership working in research and development. What are the training opportunities, funding sources, organisational developments or emerging models of collaboration? In 2000, researchers from Sheffield University surveyed 61 practitioners, managers, and policy makers from 14 social services departments, and nine NHS managers in the Trent region.1

We found few structures to support research and development in social care. Only one social services department had a research section. Two others had a “research” or “evaluation” officer with differing briefs. No social services department had a research budget. Small projects were often funded from “underspends”. Most social services interviewees had no experience of research training or development and no specific information on opportunities, although a minority had postgraduate research training. Planning and performance staff had the most research-related experience through carrying out service reviews. Only one of the 14 social services departments reported a regular partnership with local universities on research and development.

Nevertheless, there was evidence of research and evaluation activity in social services departments, usually based on individual enthusiasm and commitment. Some studies were carried out or commissioned with voluntary organisations or charities. Many included user involvement or consultation or both.

There was evidence of successful joint projects within partnerships and forums, usually designed to contribute to service development and evaluation. These included:

  • Joint planning groups in mental health, older people and learning difficulties services.
  • Health planning groups with social services participation in health improvement plans and national service frameworks.
  • Government-funded schemes such as health action zones and Sure Start.
  • Monitoring and quality assurance groups such as Best Value teams.
  • Research networks with practitioners and academics collaborating on research questions and methods.

Funding came through underspends, modernisation funds, health sources and European initiatives. Examples of external research and development funding included the Nuffield Foundation and the Department of Health policy research programme.

There were constraints within social services departments in developing joint research and development activity, including:

  • Lack of time for training or for collaborative projects.
  • Little recognition for research and development as a legitimate part of the job.
  • Low staffing levels.
  • Lack of confidence about research.
  • The need to develop a more evaluative and research-aware culture.

Despite these constraints, we found enthusiasm for joint research work. Findings confirmed that social care staff want joint training, and in response the network has started several developments including an online literature database for social care staff, joint workshops for health and social care staff, joint training courses for practitioners in research and development skills. Work has also started on a secondment database: a “dating agency” for projects needing researchers and people with masters degree skills wanting research and development experience.

1 Hilary Smith, Jenny Owen, Jo Cooke and Peter Marsh, Developing Research at the Social Services and Health Interface in Primary Care can be obtained from Michaela Barton on 0114 271 5633 or by e-mail

Jenny Owen is a lecturer at the school of health and related research, University of Sheffield. Jo Cooke is local co-ordinator for the Trent Focus Primary Care Research Network.

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