top of page

Evolving History of ICPRSW

The origins of this brief history can be traced to the Transforming Social Work Practice, Education and Inquiry conference in Finland in 2007, a small group of participants gathered to discuss the possibilities to improve and connect practice and research in a more meaningful way based on their own experiences. It soon became apparent that the issues were more than could be addressed by a small group within an international context. Subsequently, Jan Fook from the University of Southampton, UK, volunteered to organize an international conference in Salisbury in June 2008 that became the first international conference on practice research in social work as well as provided the foundation for future international practice research conferences and statements. The conference was attended by 24 participants from around the world (see attached attendance roster and picture) took place under the auspices of the Southampton Practice Research Initiative Network Group.

The focus of the first conference included extensive discussion of the nature of self-reflective social work practice and its implications for an emerging field of practice research. The range of the discussion is captured in the first of many future post-conference proceedings referred to by the locale of the conference; namely, the Salisbury Statement on Practice Research (Social Work and Social Sciences Review. 15(2), 76-81). The first delineation of practice research was viewed as preliminary (neither definitive nor conclusive) in order to become part of an evolving definition designed to improve practice research (expanded upon in future international conferences) and was crafted by the conference participants as follows:

“Practice research involves curiosity about practice. It is about identifying goo and promising ways in which to help people; and it is about challenging troubling practice thru the critical examination of practice and the development of new ideas in the light of experience. It recognizes that this is best done by practitioners in partnership with researchers, where the latter have as much, if not more, to learn from practitioners as practitioners have to learn from researchers. It is an inclusive approach to professional knowledge (development) that is concerned with understanding the complexity of practice alongside the commitment to empower (others), and to (promote) social justice, through practice.: (p.77)”

 

The second version of the practice research definition included the following:

Practice research focuses heavily on the roles of the service provider and service user who play a major role in defining the research questions and interpreting the findings. Compared to other knowledge production processes that are agency-based, service-focused, client-focused, theory-informed, highly interactive (multiple stakeholders), and designed to inform practice, policy, and future research, practice research makes a unique contribution to the research enterprise. Practice research in the field of social work plays an important role in a continuing search for ways to improve social services that promote the well-being of service users. It often involves collaboration among multiple stakeholders in addition to service providers, researchers, service users, educators (funders, policymakers, agency directors, etc.), while taking into account the power dynamics between service users and service providers with respect to inclusiveness, transparency, ethical reflexivity, and critical reflection. In this relationship, agency practice that fully captures the perspectives of service users as well as providers can inform the education of future practitioners as well as influence research on agency practice and policies. The goal of practice research is to generate knowledge derived from agency-based practice. The theoretical frameworks and methodological research tools for engaging in practice research often requires flexible and collaborative structures and organizations.

 

Practice research is often a negotiated process between practice (providers and users) and research (researchers and educators) within the context of cross-cultural dialogical communications needed to address the gap between research and practice. In essence, for practice and research to be shared, co-learning, respect, and curiosity are needed to support an inclusive inquiry and knowledge development process that captures the differences and tensions reflected in fundamentally different perspectives (e.g., service user and provider, service provider and researcher, and researcher and policymaker). In addition, practice research is often funder influenced, outcome focused, and change oriented.”

Another way to capture the highlights of the second definition of practice research can be seen in the following outline:

  • a knowledge development process that involves service providers, service users and the service researchers engaged in defining the research questions and interpreting the research findings.

  • often agency-based, service-focused, client-focused, theory-informed, highly interactive (multiple stakeholders), and designed to inform practice, policy, and future research.

  • accounts for the power dynamics between service users and service providers with respect to inclusiveness, transparency, ethical reflexivity, and critical reflection.

  • often requires flexible and collaborative structures in the form of a negotiated process between practice (providers and users) and research (researchers and educators) to address the gap between research and practice.

  • includes co-learning, respect, and curiosity needed to support an inclusive inquiry and knowledge development process.

  • often funder-influenced, outcome-focused, and change-oriented.

 

Each of the subsequent international conferences developed a statement on practice research (Helsinki, New York, Hong Kong, Melbourne) that were designed to elaborate on the evolving definition of practice research and focused on expanding the understanding of the array of partners and participants in practice research. Each of the conference statements appears elsewhere on the website here.

 

Following the Helsinki conference, there was a general consensus that we needed to find an international platform, beyond our own growing number of conference attendees, to share the evolving definition. Further refinement of the definition can be found in Preliminary Definition of Practice Research by Mike Fisher, Michael J. Austin, Ilse Julkunen, Timothy Sim, Lars Uggerhøj, Nanne Isokuortti, January, 2016 (Oxford University Press Social Work Bibliographies. DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0232).

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PRACTICE RESEARCH STATEMENTS

The 2008 Salisbury Statement on Practice Research

Based on the first international conference (small enough to be a seminar of 24) in Salisbury, England hosted by the University of Southampton, the Salisbury Statement reflects the beginning international discussions on an evolving definition of practice research with an ongoing focus on improved practice that called for increased attention to research-minded practice and practice-minded research. Given the challenge of understanding of the complexity of practice, many different interest groups need to be involved (practitioners, service users, academics, researchers, policy makers, managers) to account for and negotiate different perspectives. and these may represent contradictory interests: Practice research is about promoting a sense of curiosity about practice that also challenges current wisdom through a partnership between practitioners, researchers and service users, often in the context of social justice issues. Practice research involves the generation of knowledge of direct relevance to professional practice and therefore will usually involve knowledge that is generated directly from practice itself, thereby in a very grounded way.

The Salisbury Statement sought to focus on the need to define, develop and experience practice research, its structures, processes, interpretations of knowledge and epistemology without the need for specific and complete definitions, terms, or standards. The goal of the conference was to explore the complexities of social work practice research and the tools for improving practice by engaging service providers, service users and researchers. This should be achieved by bridging the gaps between the research and the areas of practice. The Salisbury seminar and the statement resulted more in posing questions about what practice research is, rather than coming up with answers. The conference represented a practice research brainstorming session for its first protagonists.

 

Additional details on the Salisbury Statement can be found in:

Fook, J. & Evans, T. (2011). The Salisbury Statement on Practice Research. Social Work and Social Science Review: International Journal of Applied Research. 15(2), 76-81.

 

The 2012 Helsinki Statement on Practice Research

The second international practice research conference was held in 2012 in Helsinki, Finland. This location featured the two pioneering practice research institutes; namely The Heikki Waris Institute founded in 2001 and the Mathilda Wrede Institute founded in 2002. The Helsinki conference reflected the increased number of practice research studies and as well as the need to take into account the Great Recession of 2009-2011 with its global impact. The Helsinki conference focused especially on establishing a theoretical background and robustness in the practice research processes. Practice research was not viewed as a unique or different research method but rather a meeting point between practice and research that necessitates a process of negotiations every time and everywhere that it takes place. The evolving theoretical and methodological framework for practice research calls for flexible and collaborative structures and organizations. For example, two major concepts that underpin practice research are the ‘science of the concrete’ (Flyvbjerg 2001) – a pragmatic, variable and context-dependent science and ‘Mode 2 knowledge production’ – knowledge production that emerges from an interaction between multiple players who represent different interests, competencies, approaches and values (Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2001).

 

The Helsinki Statement categorizes practice research in two approaches; namely, Research on Social Work and Practice Research Methodology.

Research on Social Work Practice

  • A research process that describes, analyses and develops practice

  • A process where curiosity, critical reflection and critical thinking from both researchers, practitioners and service users are in focus

  • A close, binding, committed and locally based collaboration between researchers/research settings and practitioner/practice settings in the planning, generating and disseminating of research

  • A participatory and dialogue-based research process relevant to the development of practice and validating different expertise within the partnership

  • Research that is built upon experience, knowledge and needs within social work practice

  • Research that reflects learning processes in practice by addressing concrete and pragmatic issues

  • Studies that challenge practice in new ways (empirical, exploratory, emancipatory and theoretical)

Practice Research Methodology

  • Negotiations throughout the research process, incorporating the dissemination elements into the research strategy

  • Research based on academic standards

  • Research where findings are interpreted and disseminated through dialogue with service users and practice

  • Robust research

  • Research that considers the embedded values and emotional and political dimensions

  • Research that is strategic about choosing collaborative partners

  • Sharing and validating the outcomes in large and external networks.

 

Additional details on the Helsinki Statement can be found in:

Julkunen, I., Austin, M.J., Fisher, M., & Uggerhoj, L. (2014) Helsinki statement on social work practice research, Nordic Social Work Research, 4(1), 7-13.

Other sources:

Flyybierg, B. (2001). Making social science matter. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press

Nowotny, H., Scott, P.B. & Gibbons, M.T. (2001). Re-Thinking Science: Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Wiley.

The 2014 New York Statement on Practice Research

The New York conference on practice research sought to expand the definition of practice research by inviting an international and inter-disciplinary audience that included educators, practitioners, and researchers. The aims of the conference included the following efforts to involve other stakeholders in design and use of practice research:

· Giving attention to the changing context of practice by exploring the impact of merging health and social services in the numerous governmental locales around the world on practice research

· Searching for ways to involve senior management to provide the necessary organizational supports for social work practice research

  • Inviting other research colleagues to explore inter-disciplinary approaches to the conduct, dissemination and, utilization of social work practice research

  • Exploring ways to actively include services users in practice research

  • Supporting research-minded practitioners through the active use of critical reflection and critical thinking as well as the education the future research-minded practitioner

  • Engaging researchers in the exploration of applied research methodologies to locate them within the domain of social work practice research (educating the future practice-minded research)

  • Educating future generations of practitioners, practice-researchers, and service users about partnership-building

  • Exploring and debating different methodological approaches that promote evidence-informed social work practice (e.g. Clinical Data-mining, Participatory Action Research, Case studies, Quasi-experimental designs, and Narrative/Critical reflection)

 

The main messages in the New York Statement were based upon the notion that the evolving definition of practice research will be directly influenced by an ever-widening involvement of future conference participants and stakeholders who could address the following challenges: 1) inter-disciplinary nature of practice research, 2) importance of organizational support for practice research, 3) finding ways to bring together the global north and the global south, and 4) expanding the involvement of diverse perspectives, especially those of service users.

Additional details on the New York Statement can be found in:

Epstein, I., Fisher, M., Julkunen, I.., Uggerhoj, L., Austin, M.J., & Sim, T. (2014). The New York Statement on the Evolving Definition of Practice Research Designed for Continuing Dialogue: A Bulletin From the 3rd International Conference on Practice Research Research on Social Work Practice. 25(6), 711-714.

The 2017 Hong Kong Statement on Practice Research

The practice research conference in Hong Kong represented efforts to include the Global South in the evolution of practice research in relationship to different contexts and challenges. It included a number of scholars, practitioners and others from countries not previously represented at practice research conferences, especially practitioners, universities and service delivery associations. The various challenges emerging from the conference included:

  1. acknowledging the multiple languages of practice and the need for a more accessible practice language needed to improve the partnership between the researchers and practitioners,

  2. the increasing the capacities of practitioners to conduct practice research - given the daily demands of social work practice, less time and energy are available for conducting practice research even if the practitioners are able and willing to participate, and

  3. the need to understand the unique contributions of different research stakeholders (service users; policymakers; government; funders; practitioners; academics) who have different purposes in conducting or utilizing practice research.

 

  • In addition, the Hong Kong statement suggests a set of global or internationals issues and questions that are germane to future conferences: is participatory action research a part of practice research or the other way around?

  • are different epistemologies and methods relevant to practice research in different parts of the world, given unique contexts and the development of social work practice?

  • how does practice research reflect both the diverse political and cultural contexts and the different stages of social work development as a profession in different parts of the world?

  • what are the various roles that practitioners can play in practice research?

  • how and when do we talk about the role of service user involvement in practice research (only research informants or active team members)?

The Hong Kong statement opens space for a more global perspective as well as the different perspectives among countries in the Global South. It also calls for the increased use of practice language to complement the preoccupation with research language, especially when involving practitioners in future conference deliberations. At the same time, there is a call for ongoing attention to expanding upon the evolving definition of practice research as well as practice research methods. As a result, the conference pointed out the paradox within the field; namely, the requirement for academic work on definitions, theories and methods while at the same time making practice research less academic and more practice-based. This paradox becomes even more challenging when concerted efforts are made to involve service users in the design, implementation, and utilization of practice research.

Additional details on the Hong Kong Statement can be found in:

Sim,T., Austin, M.J., Abdullah,F., Chan, T.M.S., Chok, M., Ke,C., Epstein, I., Fisher, M., Joubert, L., Julkunen, I., Ow,R., Uggerhøj, L., Wang, S., Webber, M., Wong, K., Yliruka, L. (2018). The Hong Kong Statement on Practice Research – 2017 International Conference on Practice Research: Contexts and Challenges of the Far East. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(1), 3-9.

The 2021 Melbourne Statement on Practice Research 

Practice meets Research was chosen as the theme for the fifth international conference on practice research held in Melbourne, Australia. It reflects three significant concepts relating to practice research, encapsulated by the three words — practice, research, meet. The Melbourne reference to practice focuses on the diverse and complex field of social work practice found in the community. It refers not only to the contexts where social work takes place but also the diverse structures and actors engaged in, or contributing to, social work practice. The term practice refers to social work practitioners, agency committees and organisations, government bodies and statutory requirements as well as service users with lived experience in the community. Moreover, it reflects the informal social networks that promote and support agencies, departments and services and the people they engage with in the community.

The Melbourne approach to research refers to the critical thinking related to the thoughtful and reflective evaluation of practice and the development of new knowledge. Practice Research is in many ways an inclusive and flexible model where evidence or new knowledge informs practice within the rigor of research methods, the complexity and diversity of practice while not compromising on the rigor of the development and implementation of research practices leading to new knowledge for practice. Practice research embraces different modalities of research methodology, in response to diverse research questions emerging from social work practice that is not based on a hierarchy of research methods.

The Melbourne reference to meets, refers to the importance of community in practice research. It implies a dynamic and direct collaboration (meeting) between researchers, services users and service structures and systems for co-creative knowledge production. The process of meeting refers to the development of models and methods of research that are sensitive to the environmental, cultural and economic realities in the community that features the shared process of generating practice knowledge. By providing evidence-informed responses to practice-based questions, the Melbourne Statement seeks to promote the codification of practice research as a way of increasing the international body of social work knowledge developed to inform practitioners, researchers, service users and students.

The Melbourne Conference featured research themes related to disadvantaged populations; service users across the lifespan; hospital and clinic-based service users; and frameworks related to research, education, and policy. It also captured the practice research opportunities in the areas of health and mental health, a unique feature of the Melbourne teaching hospitals. In particular, the focus on family-centered care encourages practitioners to generate questions from practice, with results translating back into clinical practice innovation in collaboration with other health care professionals and services.

Similarly, mental health services in the UK have been explored in partnership with researchers and new insights generated for practice (e.g. how self-disclosure by mental health practitioners about their own mental health problems were often valued by service users and practitioners alike and led to the development of a framework for mental health practitioners when making disclosure decisions). Practice research studies can lead to the development of models, interventions or recommendations for practice. In addition, improving research literacy among social work graduates can support the growth of practice research, especially where there are opportunities for practitioners to engage in research.

One of the unexpected features of the timing of the originally-planned Melbourne conference was the emergence of the following two timely books featuring methodological discussions of practice research processes:

Joubert, L., & Webber, M. (Eds.). (2020). The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Practice Research. London: Routledge.

Austin, M. J., & Carnochan, S. (2020). Practice Research in the Human Services: A university-agency partnership model. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Additional details on the 2021 Melbourne Statement can be found in:

Joubert, L., Webber, M., Uggerhøj, L., Julkunen, I., Yliruka, L., Hampson, R., Simpson, G., Sim, T., Manguy, A.-M., & Austin, M. J. (2023). The Melbourne Statement on Practice Research in Social Work: Practice Meets Research. Research on Social Work Practice, 33(4), 367–374.

Expanding the tri-annual conference to the development of an international community on practice research in social work. Moving from relying upon one international conference every three years was recognized as insufficient for the promotion of ongoing practice research by the founding International Advisory Board. As a result of the changes created by the international pandemic that transformed the Melbourne Conference into an online conference, it became apparent that smaller groups needed to be formed as Practice Research Collaboratives (PRCs) that could build upon the online experience with 3-4 meetings per year between conferences. The mission and activities of these PRCs are noted elsewhere on the website.

After fifteen years of operations, it became clear that an expanded International Advisory Board (from 7 to 18) was needed to oversee the conferences as well as the PRCs. The International Advisory Board would also include Honorary Members who played significant roles in the early days of the international conferences. While each conference would operate with a time limited website to handle the details of selecting abstracts, managing registration, and conference marketing, it became apparent that an international organization was needed and it became known as the International Community on Practice Research in Social Work. The Advisory Board met for the first time at the Aalborg Conference. 

The overall goal of this new organization included creating a central address through the use of a website icprsw.com that provided a home for the various conference statements, for the Practice Research Collaboratives, a Library of international sources on practice research, and policies and procedures related to the role of the International Advisory Board as well as guidelines for the formation of new PRCs. In addition, the goal of the International Advisory Board was to minimize the need for traditional bureaucratic elements (dues, board elections, staff, offices, etc.). Each conference location created its own break-even budgets, local planning committee, facilities arrangements, marketing, and post-conference statement with journal Special Issues for selected conference-based manuscripts.

Aalborg Conference on Practice Research (Denmark, 2023) -- Watch this space ... 

bottom of page