Embedding Evidence Informed Practice

Embedding evidence-informed practice in Bolton

Published: 11/03/2021

Author: Louise Johnstone and Kath Webster

Research tells us that passive dissemination of evidence alone isn’t effective, we have to do more than just pass it on, combining a range of mechanisms to embed a learning culture in the organisation (Nutley et al, 2007).

Key to this is:

  • Dissemination – getting the research to people and people to the research. Considering format, communication channel, audience, and topic to tailor what we present so it is accessible, timely and relevant.
  • Interaction – building links between research and organisational policy and practice, ensuring research evidence is woven into what we do, why we do and how we do, modelled by managers, and adapted to the context appropriately. Allowing formal and informal networks to develop
  • Social influence – fostering conversations between peers, using champions or experts to share research and the benefits to individuals, organisations, and those we serve.
  • Facilitation – making the use of research evidence the cultural norm, creating space for it, developing expertise in utilising it, and presenting it as what we do, part of the job.
  • Incentives and reinforcement – using positive rewards, encouragement, and constructive feedback to reinforce the message that using evidence is desired behaviour.

(Adapted from Nutley et al, 2007).

Having once been a Research in Practice Link Officer myself I get that driving engagement isn’t straightforward. It sounds easy enough on paper – join the Partner network, tell everyone about the resources and they will use them. However, in practice it takes persistence (constantly reminding people – OK nagging if I’m honest), tenacity, time, enthusiasm and a big dollop of creativity. That is why one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things about my role as Account Manager is getting together with my Link Officers to help them figure it all out in the context of their organisation. I work closely with Link Officers and Strategic Champions from across the Research in Practice Partner network supporting them to embed the use of the resources in practice. Helping them to share ideas for growing and maintaining engagement.

Bolton Council have been Partners of Research in Practice for children and families for some time, but also joined the adults network in early 2020, just as the pandemic started. Despite pressures, and because of them, the Principal Social Work Team were keen to ensure that launching the new service and continuing to embed use of the existing resources stayed high on their agenda. They set aside time to work with me to identify key actions over several months. These speak to the recommendations from the research by Nutley et al and show what they might look like in practice:

  • Getting adult care staff engaged with regular ‘about Research in Practice’ information sessions.
  • Holding a practice week for Children’s Services staff with flyers highlighting a range of Research in Practice resources covering a different topic each day.
  • Targeting senior practitioners to ensure they were aware of what resources were available and how they could use them to support practice development and improvement activity.
  • Monitoring the usage statistics to see who is using the resources, and who isn’t – with the aim of identifying super users who would receive a goody bag and a rather lovely specially designed badge!
  • Planning a series of events around Social Work Week and World Social Work Day which includes sessions to encourage collective reflection on practice over the last year.

Most recently we have been working together with a representative from Social Work England to develop a programme of sessions to support registered practitioners with their continuing professional development (CPD). This will involve a series of short sessions on set days each quarter. The first session provided an overview of the underpinning elements of Social Work England Standard 4: Maintain my CPD (setting out what you need to do to maintain your registration) looking at how Research in Practice resources might support it. Three subsequent half-hour sessions looked at each element in turn presenting examples of specific resources practitioners might wish to consider using, but also giving them time to share examples of CPD activity they have completed. Each session included the opportunity for practitioners to reflect on their CPD so far and to highlight topics of interest for discussion later in the year. Comments from staff attending has been positive suggesting that they feel reassured, supported, and appreciative of the opportunity to have some of the discussions missing when they are working remotely. The hope is that by the end of November practitioners will have been able to record succinct, relevant, impactful CPD against all the required elements of Standard 4.

If you would like to use a similar approach you can access a recorded version of session one of this programme.​

Louise Johnstone and Kath Webster

Louise Johnstone is a senior associate and account manager with Research in Practice. She works closely with Link Officers and Strategic Champions from across the Research in Practice Partner network supporting them to embed the use of the resources in practice. Helping them to share ideas for growing and maintaining engagement. Kath Webster is a Learning and Development Practitioner for Social Work, and the Link Officer for Bolton Council across the children, families, and adults practice areas.

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Nutley S, Walter I & Davies H (2007) Using evidence: How research can inform public services. Bristol: Policy Press