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Frontline partners with Tavistock and Portman to develop practice-based research in social work

In March this year, Frontline issued a tender for a research institution to partner with us and assist in the delivery of new research to contribute to the knowledge base of social work education. Here, leaders from both organisations discuss their ambitions for the partnership and the potential benefits for the profession.

Dr Louise Grant, Deputy Programme Director & Head of Academic Studies at Frontline

I am delighted to announce a new research partnership between Frontline and The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. As one of the biggest providers of social work education in the country, we have a responsibility to think about the contribution we can make to social work knowledge and practice, and what we can learn from others. Tavistock and Portman will bring their extensive experience in clinical research and practice to support Frontline in three key areas. Firstly, by supporting members of our Academic team to complete a professional doctorate. Secondly, by helping Frontline design, develop and deliver internal research projects. Finally, by promoting research-mindedness and best practice across the whole of the charity.

Tavistock and Portman has a long-standing history as an organisation grounded in practice-based theory and research. This aligns with our ethos of practice-based learning. Their expertise will provide a robust foundation for assisting us to develop our own research base. Although we have a great deal of expertise within Frontline, we will certainly benefit from working with a research-intensive organisation, which will allow us to apply that knowledge effectively and efficiently. As an education provider, we are keen to ensure we are constantly improving and learning about best practice. Yet we also recognise the need to build upon what has gone before – Tavistock and Portman’s years of experience will help up us maintain that vital continuity.

This partnership will enable our organisation to gain an outsider perspective, to help us think critically about how it can improve, grow and develop. Tavistock and Portman will act as a challenger and critical friend to Frontline, ensuring our approach to social work education remains current, reflexive and rooted in practice. One of the aspects of Frontline of which I am most proud is our willingness to take on board feedback and learn from everything we do. This partnership will allow us to apply that attitude to our research in a more rigorous and systematic way.

Over the coming weeks and months we will think carefully about the scope and the remit of the partnership, and how it might evolve over time. We are currently in the early days of this partnership and there are many areas that we need to work out – such as how to ensure our findings are widely disseminated and accessible. Crucially our research should have a positive outcome for the organisation, for social work practice and ultimately for the children and families who we work with.

Andrew Cooper, Professor of Social Work at Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust

At The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, our focus is on training and research that emerges out of practice and which returns to inform and improve practice. There used to be something of an informal motto at the Tavistock clinic: no training without clinical practice, no clinical practice without research, no research without training. It creates a holistic and integrated circle. My sense is that is very much the Frontline ethos too. As the leader of probably the largest professional doctorate programme for social work and social care in the country, I am excited for members of the Frontline team to join us and think they will be a great fit. It’s really important that the programme draws upon a wide constituency of senior practitioners, because it adds to the richness of our work.

While we have always valued the importance of using certain tried, tested and increasingly rigorously researched methodologies for practice and training, Tavistock also has a history of innovation. Frontline has started to challenge the delivery of social work in this country, in creative and constructive ways. I think the diversification in this field is a positive move, although obviously not without its tensions.

Organisations or communities of practitioners often say they have all this data lying around, all they need to do is put it to use. They very rarely do, partly because it takes expertise and time, but also because people are often resistant to challenging themselves through good data that they themselves generate. One of the things that I have to establish with researchers in training is their willingness to put their ideas to a proper test. You have to be prepared to find out something other than what you hope to find out. To be prepared to be wrong and to rethink things requires confidence and maturity. I believe Frontline are actually committed to systematic, rigorous and critical reflexivity on their activities.

With that in mind, the research we produce has got to be focussed, realistic, achievable and must produce some meaningful findings. It’s got to have an impact on the frontline of social work.