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Research: Overview

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Evidence-Based Practice, Generalizability, International Social Work Research, Practice-Based Research, Social Work Research

What is Social Work Research?

“Social work research is the use of social research methods for developing, producing, and disseminating knowledge that is pertinent to policies and practices that affect and/or are implemented by social work organizations, practitioners, and educators. It aims to describe and explain phenomena relevant to social work” (Tripodi & Potocky-Tripodi, 2007, p. 12). Ruben and Babbie (2005) further indicate that “[social work research] is social science methodology applied to social work. . . [Unlike traditional academic researchers], social work researchers. . . aim not to produce knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but to provide the practical knowledge that social workers need to solve everyday practice problems. Ultimately, they aim to give the field the information it needs to alleviate human suffering and promote social welfare” (pp. 4–5).

What Are the Purposes of Social Work Research?

The three main functions of social work research are: using a scientific orientation to provide a framework for practice, building knowledge for practice, and “providing situation-specific data to inform action, such as decisions about practice, the operations of programs, or efforts to achieve social change” (Reid, 1995, p. 2040). Notions from social work research methodology can also be employed to provide frameworks for making decisions about practice. Thus, Di Noia and Tripodi (2007) use single-case designs for providing information related to the assessment, implementation, and evaluation of practice interventions.

What Do Social Workers Study?

The contents of social work research literature could be classified into “studies of (1) behaviors, personality, problems, and other characteristics of individuals, families, and small groups; (2) characteristics, utilization, and outcome of services; (3) attitudes, orientations, and training of social workers, the profession, or interdisciplinary concerns; and (4) organizations, communities, and social policy” (Reid, 1995, p. 2044).

A review of social work research journals since 2000 can provide a good indication of what social work researchers study. The contents of major social work journals indicate that a variety of social problems and social issues are reflected in research studies; knowledge and instruments developed to produce knowledge are focused on mental health, public health practices, substance abuse, minority and oppressed groups, poverty, welfare policies, aging, and so forth. Essentially, the full range of social work problems and practices are studied.

What Methods Do Social Work Researchers Use?

Rosen, Proctor, and Staudt (1999) classified the research articles they reviewed on the basis of the purpose of the research as descriptive, explanatory, and control. Descriptive studies assess the distribution characteristics of single variables in one or more populations or samples. In addition, studies that conceptualize relevant variables, as in qualitative research, are included. Explanatory studies investigate relationships among variables, and control studies investigate the effects of services or the efficacy or effectiveness of interventions.

Tripodi and Potocky-Tripodi (2007) also indicate that a variety of methods are used to provide evidence for achieving the knowledge objectives of social work research:

  1. (a) Case studies, participant observation, and techniques of instrument construction can be employed to provide evidence for the development and operationalization of concepts.

  2. (b) Qualitative methods, nonparticipant observation, and participatory research can be used to formulate theories and hypotheses.

  3. (c) Census, survey, and epidemiological methods can be used to form quantitative descriptions and to test correlational hypotheses.

  4. (d) Quasi-experimental and experimental designs can be used to test causal hypotheses.

Where Are Social Work Researchers Trained?

Social work researchers continue to receive their basic research training from doctoral programs in social work or related fields (Reid, 1995). In addition, a few receive advanced training from post-doctoral programs. Moreover, many researchers receive advanced training in research and statistical methods at summer workshops in major research universities—for example, courses in survival analysis, epidemiological methods, multivariate analyses, and computerized programs that can be employed in analyzing quantitative data. The Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR) hosts numerous research training workshops. Opportunities for such workshops also exist during professional social work research conferences.

Moreover, training can be provided by governmental agencies. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), for example, is supportive of training for social work researchers. NIMH provided a research training workshop at the University of Wisconsin in 1992–1993; research dissemination workshops at the University of Michigan, 1994–1998, on child and adolescent mental health services, mental health epidemiology, intervention research, and poverty and mental health; a two-day research dissemination workshop in California for social work faculty and social work practitioners; and a number of pre-doctoral research training grants, two post-doctoral training grants, and individual grants for pre-doctoral and post-doctoral students in social work education programs during 1997 (Austin, 1999).

Where Is Social Work Research Conducted?

The research takes place in universities and research centers, or in collaboration with investigators from other institutions and administrators and practitioners at social agencies. Research centers funded by federal agencies, such as NIMH, or state-funded research centers that evaluate the performance of social agencies are other locations of social work research. Much research, particularly as it relates to social work practice, is agency-based research. Agencies often contain archives of existing data that can be mined (Epstein, 2001). In addition, social agencies may serve as sites for federally funded research, or they may employ university researchers to conduct or participate in needs assessments, organizational studies, and program evaluations (Unrau, Gabor, & Grinnell 2006).

What Are the Financial and Organizational Supports for Social Work Research?

Financial support for social work research continues to be “provided by a variety of sources, including universities, agencies, federal and state research funding, and foundations. Support from universities. . . is primarily embedded in faculty salaries, office space, equipment, and student research assistance” (Reid, 1995, p. 2043). Social agencies may provide management-information sources, archival data, case records, equipment, and time that practitioners might spend in gathering and interpreting data. Many state and federal agencies also provide grants for research and evaluation studies. Perhaps the most influential agency that has provided large sources of funds for social work research is NIMH (Austin, 1999).

According to Austin (1999), NIMH has responded to recommendations of the 1991 Task Force Report in a very positive way, funding seven Social Work Research Development Centers. Moreover, NIMH initially supported the creation of IASWR. As a result of collaboration between NIMH and IASWR, an increased number of social work principal investigators were funded.

NIMH has consistently been the largest funding source for social work research (Austin, 1999). For example, “In FY 1993, there were 38 research awards by NIMH, for $9.5 million, made to social work education programs or Principal Investigators with social work degrees. In FY 1995, there were 54 awards for $15.4 million, and in FY 1997, there were 60. . . for $15 million. . . In FY 1993, there were 5 new research awards to faculty and students in social work education programs. In FY 1995, there were 14 and in FY 1997, there were 23” (Austin, 1999, p. 5). Thus, there were, in general, increased levels of funding for social work researchers in the 1990s.

Organizational mechanisms for facilitating the exchange of information among social work researchers include research centers, federal and state agencies, and universities and colleges. Two predominant organizations that have influenced the development of social work research are the IASWR and the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR).

The creation of IASWR was recommended by the NIMH Task Force on Social Work Research (Building Social Work Knowledge, 1991), and it was founded with the support of NIMH in 1993. It was financially supported by the Ford Foundation from 1997 to 1999 and has received consistent financial contributions from leading groups in the social work profession such as the National Association of Deans and Directors, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, the Council on Social Work Education, the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, and the Society for Social Work and Research.

IASWR serves the research needs of the entire social work profession. It also promotes social work research that is conducted by other academic and professional organizations.

SSWR was founded in 1994 as a free-standing organization dedicated to the advancement of social work research (SSWR, 2006). According to its by-laws, the organization works collaboratively with IASWR on its projects. Members of SSWR represent more than 200 universities and institutions, and they include faculty in schools of social work and other professional schools, research staff in public and private agencies, and social work graduate students. The membership of SSWR has increased rapidly from approximately 200 to more than 1,300 members from 45 states in the United States as well as 15 other countries (SSWR, 2006).

SSWR holds an annual conference at which research papers covering a range of social work topics and research methods are presented. It also fosters networking among social work researchers, advocates for increased research funding, promotes advances in knowledge, and provides recognition of significant research contributions.

Continuing Issues and Developments

These are issues that were evident in the past decade and that remain somewhat controversial: empirical-practice movement, choosing research methods, meta-analysis, research utilization, intervention research, and generalizability.

Empirical-Practice Movement

Empirical practice is the use of social research methods to guide practice decisions, particularly with respect to the assessment of client problems and the evaluation of social work interventions (Blythe, Tripodi, & Briar 1994; Reid, 1995). Although single-subject, single-case, or single-system design has been a major component of empirical practice, other research methods have been employed when evaluating practice (Blythe et al., 1994; Tripodi, 1994). For example, qualitative procedures of observation and unstructured interviewing, as well as archival data from social agencies, have been used to provide evidence about the control of internal validity threats, such as history and maturation. Nevertheless, the main thrust of single-system designs (SSD) is the use of time series data before and after interventions and the manipulation of interventions such as a re-introduction of an intervention after there has been a natural withdrawal (that is, based on a clinical decision) that resulted in relapse.

In a special issue of Social Work Research (1996), three books were selected as representing aspects of empirical practice and social work scholars provided reviews of the ideas presented in these books: Evaluating practice: Guidelines for the accountable professional (Bloom, Fischer, & Orme 1999, 2009); Measures for clinical practice: A sourcebook (Fischer & Corcoran 1994, 2011); and Direct Practice Research in Human Service Agencies (Blythe et al., 1994). Among the issues raised were the extent to which practitioners could be scientist-practitioners, the conflict between practice and research, and the advantages and disadvantages of single-system designs. Proponents of the empirical-practice movement asserted that practitioners should evaluate their practice to be accountable to clients and agency sponsors, especially in managed-care environments in which agency outcomes were tied to funds. Opponents of empirical practice believed that the practitioner could not follow the rigid requirements of empirical practice, particularly those procedures that appeared to require unethical manipulations of interventions.

There is now a more balanced view of single-system designs. It is clearly recognized that SSD is only one way to secure evaluative knowledge and that the clinical interview as well as other research techniques are useful (Di Noia & Tripodi 2007; Vonk, Tripodi, & Epstein 2006). In fact, there is a trend to utilize more methodological knowledge, that is, different research procedures, to obtain knowledge pertinent to practice, and this is clearly seen in practice research (Epstein, 2001). As the 21st century progresses, it is expected that practitioners will continue to use a variety of research methods, perhaps with consultation from research experts, to garner information relevant to practice.

Choosing Research Methods

In the past decade, qualitative research courses have appeared in social work doctoral programs, well-known research textbooks such as that by Rubin and Babbie (2005) have included chapters on qualitative methods, a few more qualitative research articles have appeared in research journals, and textbooks on qualitative research, for example, Qualitative methods in social work research (Padgett, 1998, 2008) have been evident.

Distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research methods were made to guide social work researchers in their choice of methods. Padgett (1998, 2008), for example, distinguished qualitative from quantitative research as: “Qualitative research is inductive, seeking to discover; it is naturalistic and holistic; it deals with open systems and dynamic reality; the qualitative researcher is an instrument of data collection; and categories result from data analysis. In contrast, quantitative research is deductive, based on the scientific method, employs controlled conditions, is particularistic, studies a stable reality, and uses standardized data collection instruments; and in quantitative research, categories precede data analysis” (cited in Tripodi & Potocky-Tripodi, 2007, p. 40).

Research studies may have multiple objectives, some of which might require both quantitative and qualitative methods within the same study. In fact, there is an increasing emphasis on research studies that involve several methods, that is, mixed methods research. Kazi (2003) uses quantitative and qualitative research methods in evaluating practice, and Epstein (2001) illustrates how collaboration of practitioners and researchers in mining data from social agencies may result in using a combination of research methods.

Into the 21st century, it is expected that there will be more mixed-methods research. Moreover, it appears there will be fewer debates about quantitative or qualitative methods; instead, it is likely there will be more attempts at including multiple methods within the same studies. New debates might deal with best practices for combining research methods, and to what extent diverse methods stemming from different epistemological points of view can be combined.

Meta-Analysis

Meta-analysis is a quantitative method for synthesizing data from a large number of research studies (Reid, 1995). Relationships among variables—that is, effect sizes—are combined in statistical analyses. The studies that are included in meta-analysis are quantitative and include statistics such as means, standard deviations, and correlation coefficients.

Meta-analysis “offers discipline and precision; is a descriptive tool; and brings statistical tools to the literature review” (Videka-Sherman, 1995, p. 1716). It should be noted, however, that meta-analysis is a procedure for combining quantitative studies but not qualitative studies. Hence, it does not supersede narrative reviews of qualitative research studies. Moreover, as Shadish, Cook and Campbell (2002) indicate, meta-analysis can only be as good as the studies that are included; if the studies are flawed, the meta-analysis will also be flawed.

Narrative reviews, on the other hand, can provide detailed descriptions of qualitative categories used in the development of theory (Shadish et al., 2002). Narrative reviews of research studies are advantageous for developing concepts and hypotheses that are conceptually generalizable, that is, that can be employed in a variety of situations.

Meta-analysis can be useful for summarizing relationships of variables and average sizes in quantitative studies. Two examples of meta-analytic studies in the late 1990s and early 2000s are that of Franklin, Grant, Corcoran, Miller, and Bultman (1997), which analyzes 32 outcome studies on the primary prevention of adolescent pregnancy and examines several moderator variables with respect to the findings, and that of Dumaine (2003), which analyzes 15 quantitative research studies to determine effective interventions for clients diagnosed as severely mentally ill and as substance abusers.

Research Utilization

The utilization of social work research by practitioners continues to be an area of concern. While the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics requires that social workers “monitor and evaluate policies, the implementation of programs, and practice interventions” (p. 25), in general, practitioners do not read research studies, and they do not systematically search the literature for evidence on which to base their practice. There are some indications, however, that practitioners use methods of research for evaluating practices and programs, use standardized instruments when available for particular substantive problems in assessment, and use questionnaires and forms for gathering information about clients and their families (Vonk et al., 2006).

From a cursory review of social work research journals over a decade, it appears that there are very few articles concerned with research about the process of utilizing and integrating research in practice. Supporting this view, Feldman (2005) asserted that there has been little research dealing with how to utilize research findings in practice, and that research utilization has been neglected in the beginning of the 20th century.

Epstein (2001) pioneered a movement of practice-based research whereby research is inductively generated in practice situations by practitioners collaborating with researchers. In fact, a book by Dodd & Epstein (2012) focused on demonstrating the “practice-friendly” ways in which research can contribute to the quality of practice for both social work students and professionals while decreasing their reluctance to using research.

In addition, proponents of participatory research have focused more directly on an integration of practice and research. Allen-Meares, Hudgins, Engberg, and Lessnau (2005), for example, examined how 10 collaborative projects focused on children and youths, and they applied the principles of participatory research by analyzing multiple forms of qualitative studies.

It is hoped that as the 21st century progresses, the distance between research and practice will diminish. More research is needed on the different modes for implementing research knowledge in practice. Perhaps this can be sparked by more studies that are practice-based, as well as increased use of participatory research modalities.

Intervention Research

Schilling (1997) refers to an intervention by a social worker as an action with clientele to enhance or maintain their functioning and well-being. He cites the pioneering work of Thomas and Rothman (1994) who asserted that intervention research includes: (a) behavioral research related to interventions, (b) knowledge utilization and applications of the research in practice, and (c) the design, development, and evaluation of interventions. Expanding on these notions of intervention, Schilling (1997) specifies five types of studies encompassed by intervention research:

  1. (1) Studies that attempt to understand problem phenomena, undertaken with the objective of developing interventions

  2. (2) Research on the process of helping

  3. (3) Longitudinal studies that observe what happens to clients during and after their agency contact

  4. (4) Studies that systematically design and develop interventions

  5. (5) Full-scale experiments, testing clinical or social change strategies in agency, field, and community settings (p. 174)

Two promising recent developments are team efforts and intervention research. A social intervention group was founded in 1990 at the Columbia University School of Social Work with the purpose of developing, adapting, and testing socio-behavioral interventions that aim to reduce social problems among low-income urban populations (Schilling, 1997). Over the years, under the leadership of Schilling and Schinke, a number of intervention research studies have been conducted. Two examples are Evaluation of a Brief Computer-mediated Intervention to Reduce HIV Risk Among Early Adolescent Females (Di Noia, Schinke, Pena, & Schwinn 2004) and Reducing the Risks of Alcohol Use Among Urban Youth: Three-year Effects of a Computer-based Intervention with and Without Parent Involvement (Schinke, Schwinn, Di Noia, & Cole 2004).

Fraser, Galinsky, Richman, and Day at the University of North Carolina have developed a sequential experimentation approach to intervention research, created a conceptual framework of practice based on risk and resilience, and worked on projects to promote intervention research (Fraser, Nash, Galinsky, & Darwin 2000; Fraser, Richman, & Galinsky 1999; Richman & Fraser 2001).

The promise of intervention research is in the development of effective interventions that can be implemented in social work practice (Fraser, 2004). Among the difficulties in such research are developing nonmechanistic protocols for implementing interventions, accounting for variations among practitioners, developing reliable and valid measures of effectiveness, reducing attrition in field experiments, developing meaningful control groups, controlling internal and external validity threats, and developing replications across sites, practitioners, and clients for interventions that appear to be effective.

Generalizability

One of the most vexing problems in social work research as well as in other forms of social science research is that of generalizability. Yet there has been very little work that explores the parameters and extent of the problem. Lalayants and Tripodi (2009) reviewed several years of empirical social work research literature and noted that many different modalities were used to argue for generalizability in research studies. As in the past (Nurius & Tripodi, 1985), statistical inference was often employed with nonrepresentative samples; replications were mentioned infrequently; qualitative and quantitative comparisons of samples to populations were made; and appeals to the literature with respect to consistent findings were included (Lalayants & Tripodi, 2009). By and large, it was clear that there were no standards that were universally employed.

The issue of generalizability is continually evident in a collection of 20 studies by social work researchers (Alexander & Solomon 2006). The authors were asked to comment on the strengths and limitations of those studies as well as specify the underlying principles for making key decisions influencing the research process (Tripodi, 2006). That special feature gave a perspective on how different aspects of the research process are “often compromised in agency and community research as a function of social, political, ethical, and economic constraints” (Tripodi, 2006, p. 61). These constraints also affected the degree to which results could be generalized:

A content analysis of the authors’ commentaries indicated that 15 studies emphasized limitations in generalizability; 10 studies, issues in internal validity; and 5 made conclusions that their data were suggestive of certain findings. Limitations discussed included the type of sampling employed; loss of subjects in data collection as well as in data analysis; lack of clarity on the population to which the researchers desired to generalize their results; lack of replications, and so forth (Tripodi, 2006, pp. 61–62).

The methodological study of guidelines and criteria for making generalizations has been lacking in social work. Yet, the extent to which one can generalize knowledge is at the root of using evidence on which social workers can make decisions about their practice. It is hoped that systematic guidelines for generalizations will be developed in the coming years.

Emerging Developments

These issues are topical in today’s current research environment, and it is expected they will be important in the years to come: evidence-based practice, practice-based research, culturally competent research, data mining, and international social work research.

Evidence-Based Practice

According to Sackett, Straus, Richardson, Rosenberg, and Haynes (2000, 2005), evidence-based practice (EBP) is “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research” (p. 1). EBP, described elsewhere in detail (Gambrill, 1999, 2003; Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson 1996; Sackett et al. 2000, 2005), is a movement that involves the utilization of practice evidence by practitioners, which encourages them to select effective intervention approaches for their clients.

To explicate the implementation stage of EBP, Gambrill (1999) has identified and summarized these steps:

  1. 1. Converting information needs into answerable questions

  2. 2. Tracking down with maximum efficiency the best evidence to answer key questions

  3. 3. Critically appraising that evidence for its validity and usefulness;

  4. 4. Applying the results of this appraisal to a particular client;

  5. 5. Evaluating the outcome (p. 3).

Despite the fact that these steps seem practicable, many practitioners are still uncertain about the implementation process and overwhelmed by the challenges. Often, social workers lack the necessary skills, time, or resources to implement the EBP approach. A significant obstacle involves access to the existing literature; many practitioners work in settings where there is no direct access to books and journals. Those who do have access to literature find it difficult to stay completely informed on a regular basis, given the vast amount of literature that is available; it is also well beyond the capacity of their education. Even those who have the expertise to evaluate evidence find the task time-consuming and challenging (Lohr, 2000).

With the development of practice guidelines, availability of meta-analyses and systematic reviews of literature, and use of technology such as websites and other electronic databases, the challenges associated with compiling, evaluating, and utilizing the evidence could be reduced (Gibbs, 2003; McNeill, 2006; Videka, 2003). Despite the challenges, the interest in EBP movement is rising, thus providing social workers, educators, researchers, and policy developers with a great opportunity to improve relationships between science and practice, and to expand partnerships (Jenson, 2005).

Practice-Based Research

Practice-based research (PBR) focuses on practitioners and draws them into the research process, thus increasing the utilization of research knowledge (Dodd & Epstein, 2012). Yegidis and Weinbach (2002, 2011) reported that “a practice-oriented and practice-informed researcher is likely to produce research findings that will have value and be of benefit to those who deliver services to clients” (p. 8). According to Epstein (2001), “Practice-based research may be defined as the use of research-inspired principles, designs and information gathering techniques within existing forms of practice to answer questions that emerge from practice in ways that inform practice” (p. 17). PBR relies on these fundamental characteristics:

  • It is inductive—that is, key concepts are derived from practice wisdom.

  • It utilizes nonexperimental or quasi-experimental designs.

  • It seeks descriptive or correlational knowledge.

  • It may be retrospective or prospective.

  • It may be quantitative or qualitative, but it relies on instrumentation that is tailored to practice needs rather than on externally standardized research measures.

  • It is collaborative, but it in its implementation, practice requirements outweigh research considerations (Epstein, 2001, p. 18).

The overall goal of PBR is to integrate practice and research. In this case, research is conceptualized and conducted by practitioners for practice purposes, using techniques compatible with practice (Dodd & Epstein, 2012). Since this research takes place in agency settings, it tends to be more naturalistic, heuristic, and reflective (Epstein, 2001). PBR inquiries can be carried out by agency researchers, academics, practitioners, students, and service recipients (Hess & Mullen 1995).

PBR has received increased attention in the past years and is evident particularly in clinical data-mining studies (Auslander, Dobrof, & Epstein 2001; Epstein & Blumenfield 2001; Gellis, 2001; Lalayants, Epstein & Adamy, 2011; Mason et al., 2001; Peake, Epstein, & Medeiros 2005; Zilberfein, Hutson, Snyder, & Epstein 2001) and participatory research (PR) (Allen-Meares et al., 2005; Gellis, 2001; Wong & Chow 2006) as ways of informing practice.

As in evidence-based practice, the challenges associated with practice-based research include the issue of generalizability. The findings from the PBR may be applied to the particular settings where the studies were conducted. With replications at different sites by one large agency or across different agencies, however, the findings might be more generalizable. Developing and employing research methods that assure both fidelity and utilization applicability are a challenge for researchers and practitioners. From a practice–research integration perspective, however, clinical data-mining may be a credible alternative to randomized controlled experiments (Sainz & Epstein 2001).

As recent research trends and developments demonstrate, the number of social work practitioners, researchers, and clients involved in collaborative activities in developing and testing interventions is increasing. It is hoped that more partnerships will be developed in the coming years to increase research utilization among practitioners to decrease the distance between researchers and practitioners.

Culturally Competent Research

Since 2000, researchers have come to realize that cultural differences in clientele can affect studies in all phases of the research process—from problem formulation to the collection and analysis of data (Rubin & Babbie 2005, 2010). There is little research in relation to understanding differences that might occur as a result of cultural variations and researchers’ sensitivities. A growing number of precautions, however, are included in textbooks on research.

Rubin and Babbie (2005, 2010) state that cultural competence in social work research “means being aware of and appropriately responding to the ways in which cultural factors and cultural differences should influence what we investigate, how we investigate, and how we interpret our findings” (p. 497). Prior to studying minority and oppressed groups, Rubin and Babbie (2005, 2010) advise that researchers should review literature concerning the historical, economic, familial, traditional, and cultural factors that affect those groups. Moreover, researchers should avoid the biases of ethnocentrism and recognize that there are variations within cultures as well as among cultures.

Ortega and Richey (1998) make a number of suggestions for increasing cultural competence: promoting “methodological diversity, cross-cultural measurement validity, consideration of environmental risk and resiliency factors, attention to the process of data collection, and researcher self assessment” (p. 48). Their suggestions need to be tested empirically, however.

Social work researchers need a firm base of knowledge, attitudes, and skills for conducting research in different cultures. It is hoped that there will be future research regarding the development of culturally competent researchers. Moreover, instruments should be developed to assess the extent to which social work researchers are culturally competent.

Data Mining

Clinical data mining involves the location, extraction, analysis, and interpretation of routinely available clinical and administrative data by the practitioners who generated these data and/or by practice-based researchers (for example, academics and MSW and PhD students) who have legitimate access to these data (Epstein, 2010). Depending on the kinds of data available, data-mining may be quantitative or qualitative. Though typically retrospective, data-mining studies may also be the basis for prospective practitioner studies (Epstein & Joubert, 2010). Similarly, in using available information, data may be combined with original data-collection. Data-mining studies may incorporate program descriptions, outcome evaluation, exploratory qualitative studies, etc. (Joubert & Epstein, 2005).

Available information presents the possibility of providing rich descriptive, quantitative, or qualitative accounts of a variety of social work interventions (Epstein, 2001). Such an approach enables an exploration of the presenting issues in a way that is neither clinically nor programmatically intrusive and does not require large amounts of research funding or long periods of research time, as are needed for longitudinal studies (Nilsson, 2001). Data-mining promotes partnerships between practitioners and academic institutions with reciprocal advantages, such as access to knowledge, research skills, and resources (Joubert, 2006).

Initially developed in the United States at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City (Epstein, 2001) as a strategy for engaging direct-service practitioners in research, data-mining is now being productively applied, tested and refined in hospitals and human service agencies both nationally and internationally (Lalayants et al., 2012). For example, studies by Auslander et al. (2001) and Zilberfein et al. (2001) demonstrated the utility of data mining for enhancing understanding of clients, social work interventions, and their relationships to client outcomes. Mason et al. (2001) described the patient population, types of issues addressed, and services provided, and examined the effectiveness of social work interventions using a clinical data-mining approach. Others applied data-mining in an exploratory study of risk factors for potential intimate partner violence (Ross, Walther & Epstein, 2004). Lalayants et al. (2011) examined available agency records concerning mental health, substance-abuse, and domestic-violence consultations to evaluate a multidisciplinary collaborative practice in child protection.

International Social Work Research

With the pressure of globalization and the thrust of international relations centered on such problems as human trafficking, mental health and child welfare, international social work has become increasingly important (Healy, 2001; Hokenstad & Midgley, 2004). Concomitantly, international social work research has also been of interest to the social work profession.

Tripodi and Potocky-Tripodi (2007) developed a typology of international social work research that included supranational (conducted in one country but using literature from two or more countries), intranational (concerned with the study of migrants from one country, who live in another, using literature from and generating implications for both countries), and transnational research (comparative research between two or more countries, using literature across populations and drawing implications for each population).

Lalayants, Tripodi and Jung (2009) conducted a content analysis of American social work journals over a 10-year period (1995–2004) to determine the extent to which there was an increase in international social work research. Consistent with previous findings (Jung & Tripodi, 2007), there was a continual increase in international social work research (Lalayants et al., 2009), but, a small decline was evident in transnational comparative research (Lalayants et al., 2009). These findings support arguments made by Midgely (2004) and Tripodi and Potocky-Tripodi (2005) that there have not been enough comparative studies in the field of social work.

It is expected that there will be more attention paid to substantive and methodological issues in international social work research. Moreover, it is hoped that more comparative research projects will take place in 2010s and 2020s, because social workers now have more prospects of being involved in international research due to the enhanced opportunities for international sharing and exchanging (for example, international student exchange programs, joint training and research projects with international colleagues, etc.), increased number of international organizations and international conferences, and easier access to international and foreign journals and publications (Lalayants et al., 2009).

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                                                                                                                                                          Further Reading

                                                                                                                                                          Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR). (2006). Retrieved October 2, 2006, from http://www.iaswresearch.org/