When preparing to share your work with others you must decide what to share, with whom to share it, and in what format(s) to share it. In this section, we’ll consider the former two aspects of sharing your work. In the section that follows, we’ll consider the various formats through which social workers might share their work.
Because conducting social work research is a scholarly pursuit and because social work researchers generally aim to reach a true understanding of social processes, it is crucial that we share all aspects of our research—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doing so helps ensure that others will understand, use, and effectively critique our work. We considered this aspect of the research process in Chapter 5, but it is worth reviewing here. We learned about the importance of sharing all aspects of our work for ethical reasons and for the purpose of replication. In preparing to share your work with others, and in order to meet your ethical obligations as a social work researcher, challenge yourself to answer the following questions:
Understanding why you conducted your research will help you be honest—with yourself and your readers—about your own personal interest, investments, or biases with respect to the work. In Chapter 2, I suggested that starting where you are is an effective way to begin a research project. While this is true, using the idea of starting where you are effectively requires that you be honest with yourself and your readers about where you are and why you have chosen to conduct research on your topic. Being able to clearly communicate how you conducted your research is also important. This means being honest about your data collection methods, sample and sampling strategy, and data analysis.
The third question in the list is designed to help you articulate who the major stakeholders are in your research. Of course, the researcher is a stakeholder. Additional stakeholders might include funders, research participants, or others who share something in common with your research subjects (e.g., members of some community where you conducted research or members of the same social group, such as parents or athletes, upon whom you conducted your research). Professors for whom you conducted research as part of a class project might be stakeholders, as might employers for whom you conducted research. Understanding the answer to this question will allow you target formal and informal venues to share your research, which we will review in the next section.
The fourth question should help you think about the major strengths of your work. Finally, the last two questions are designed to make you think about potential weaknesses in your work and how future research might build from or improve upon your work. Presenting your research honestly requires admitting the limitations of your study but arguing why the results are important anyway. All scientific studies contain limitations and are open to questioning.
Another important factor is sharing your research is the social work role the researcher intends to adopt. For example, let’s imagine you have completed a study on domestic and sexual violence within your service area—four rural counties closest to your office. Your study found that domestic and sexual violence (DV/SV) occurs more often in your services area than the national or state average and is associated with poverty, mental health diagnosis, and race. Indeed, the majority of survivors in your study do not engage with formal supports, including advocacy or counseling, or the criminal justice system, including police or courts. How can we use these results to inform practice across the micro to macro spectrum?
Dubois and Krogsrud Miley (2005) describe generalist social work roles across three practice areas. The first practice area is resource management, and generalist social workers should understand that “resources are power” (p. 236). Organizations and individuals with money, knowledge, talent, staff, office space, technology, and other resources hold power in the social space and our ability to martial those resources on behalf of our clients can determine their treatment outcomes. The second practice area is education, and the authors emphasize that “knowledge is power,” as well. Social work involves learning from and educating our clients, as well as sharing our knowledge where it is needed in the social service system. The final practice area is consultancy, recognizing that social workers bring expertise and resources and collaborate with clients to create solutions to problems. Let’s think about how social workers on the micro, meso, and macro level might act within these roles to bring about change based on empirical research findings.
If you are engaged in macro social work, the activist role demands advocacy on behalf of target populations to individuals who control resources. Your research provides clear evidence that county or state governments should dedicate more resources to combatting DV/SV in your area. Perhaps you wish to lobby these individuals directly through phone calls or letter campaigns which include your results. Another option would be to partner with DV/SV service agencies who can use your results in grant applications for additional funding for DV/SV services. Your research sharing—be it in the form of a journal article, conference presentation, editorial article, interview on local media, among countless others—contributes to what we all know about DV/SV as a society. You may also engage in the role of a planner, creating new programs and marshalling resources to address the growing problem of DV/SV is your community.
Meso-level social work roles are also compatible with disseminating social work research. As a convener and mediator, social workers can bring together community leaders and organizations to address problems as a team. Using your research, you can highlight how the problems of domestic and sexual violence, poverty, race, and criminal justice are intertwined. Perhaps your research can be a catalyst to creating a task force on DV/SV in your area. Your research could convince anti-poverty organizations, anti-racist organizations, as well as police, to come together to address a problem jointly. Your research will assure everyone that their time and resources are dedicated to a pressing community need. You may also use your research to propose trainings and outreach to advocates or police officers, to help them better accommodate survivors and lower the barriers to access supports in the community.
As a micro-level social worker, you can share the results of your study with your client, which may make them feel less alone and contextualize their struggle within their home community. You can advocate within the current system for your client’s right to services, for exceptions to policies that block them from accessing necessary resources, and for the effective delivery of services by DV/SV agencies. Your research may also cue you to address the effects of racism and poverty in their lives, providing a more comprehensive approach to intervention. Micro-level social workers also engage in educational practice roles, as well. Social workers not only work in intervention with survivors and abusers, but also in prevention roles that aim to stop abuse before it happens. Educating children on healthy relationships can help prevent domestic and sexual violence from happening, and your research can contribute to how violence is experienced in your community.
Social work research is research for action on behalf of target populations. Sharing your results with the world is a necessary part of that mission.