Deborah K. Padgett
The term qualitative methods is relatively new. There is no single definition, although they share features in common, that is, flexibility, holism, naturalism, and insider perspectives. Epistemological debates continue among qualitative researchers, and the diverse methodological approaches often reflect the influence of constructivist critiques. The basic approaches—ethnography, grounded theory, case studies, narrative, phenomenological, and action research—are described along with the fundamentals of data collection and analysis, the role of theory, standards for rigor, ethical issues, and social work values. Rapid growth in the popularity of these methods ensures that they will play a key role in the professions' knowledge development in the future.
Enola Proctor and J. Curtis McMillen
Assessing and improving the quality of social services is one of the most pressing concerns for social work practice and research. Practice in nearly every setting is affected by stakeholder expectations that agencies monitor and improve quality. This entry addresses the meaning of the phrase “quality of care” with respect to social work services, considers this topic in relation to quality improvement, quality assurance, and evaluation of services, and points to the research that is needed in order to assess and improve quality.
This entry describes the definition, history, theories, and applications of quantitative methods in social work research. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research emphasizes precise, objective, and generalizable findings. Quantitative methods are based on numerous probability and statistical theories, with rigorous proofs and support from both simulated and empirical data. Regression analysis plays a paramountly important role in contemporary statistical methods, which include event history analysis, generalized linear modeling, hierarchical linear modeling, propensity score matching, and structural equation modeling. Quantitative methods can be employed in all stages of a scientific inquiry ranging from sample selection to final data analysis.
This entry defines Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) and puts them in an historical context. It provides an understanding of the distinction between efficacy and effectiveness RCTs and explains why effectiveness trials are more relevant to social work interventions. The strengths and limitations of RCTs that use experimental designs are delineated. It discusses the reporting requirements of RCTs by the standards of the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials).. It also presents the controversies of social workers in the use of RCTs.. Current health services research emphasizes evidence-based practices, research on comparative effectiveness, and using dissemination and implementation research to understand the gaps between empirically supported interventions and the services that are offered in routine care. RCTs have emerged as a central methodology in all of these efforts. Social workers, therefore, need to be knowledgeable and engage in these efforts.
Tony Tripodi and Marina Lalayants
This entry reviews the state of social work research from the appearance of the social work research overview in the previous encyclopedia to the early 2010s. Social work research is defined, and its purposes, contents, training, location, and auspices are briefly discussed. Continuing issues and developments, as well as the emerging developments of evidence-based practice, practice-based research, cultural competence, and international social work research, are featured.
Joan Levy Zlotnik
An important attribute of a profession is the systematic study of its practices, to continually advance its service modalities. Throughout its history the social work profession has engaged in research and sought to strengthen connections between research and practice. National social work organizations and federal agencies, especially the National Institute of Mental Health, have all played key roles in stimulating and assessing the research enterprise. International and interdisciplinary research, advanced research methods and research/practitioner/community partnerships provide perspective for future efforts.
This entry reviews the uses of scales and instruments in social work practice, including scales and instruments for diagnosis and evidencing treatment necessity, as methods for monitoring client progress, and as outcomes measures of clinical significance. A resource list for locating scales and instruments is provided.
Joel Fischer and John G. Orme
Single-system designs (SSDs) are a family of user-friendly empirical procedures that can be used to help professionals to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the services they provide to clients and to guide practice. SSDs can be used to evaluate interventions based on any theory or approach. Repeated measurement of the target(s) of intervention is an intrinsic and key element of SSDs. Dozens of SSDs exist, and each has its own strengths and limitations. The most basic and most widely used design is the A-B design. Data from SSDs are analyzed visually, using simple, descriptive or inferential statistics, or using criteria for practical or clinical significance.
Paula T. Morelli and Jon Kei Matsuoka
Social impact assessment (SIA) is the process of analyzing (predicting, evaluating and reflecting) and managing the intended and unintended consequences on the human environment of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, and projects) and any social change processes brought into play by those interventions so as to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment (Vanclay, 2002). This subfield of impact assessment attempts to identify future consequences of a current or proposed action related to individuals, organizations and social macro-systems. SIA is policy-oriented social research often referred to as ex-ante evaluation, which involves pre-testing actions/interventions, or analyzing consequences.
James E. Lubben
Social work doctoral education in the U.S. commenced almost 100 years ago. Although initial growth was slow, the number of universities offering doctoral degrees in social work has rapidly grown over the last 25 years. During this time, the Group to Advance Doctoral Education (GADE) in social work has fostered excellence. There is considerable variation in program emphasis. Financial support for doctoral education in social work appears to be growing along with employment opportunities for graduates. Emerging trends and issues will pose major challenges for doctoral education in social work.