Why is social care research important? 

Professor Lee-Ann Fenge
23rd February 2022

Lee-Ann Fenge, Professor of Social Care at Bournemouth University and Social Care lead for the Wessex Clinical Research Network (CRN), has recently contributed to a blog for the Council of Deans and a podcast for Emerald publishing exploring why social care research is important. 

The blog can be accesses at: https://www.councilofdeans.org.uk/2022/02/codhresearchmonth-2022-blog-working-together-in-health-and-social-care-research/ 

The podcast which is a discussion between Lee-Ann and Luke Geoghegan from BASW is available at: 


This is an important topic as currently there is a lack of an established culture of research in social work and social care settings. Over twenty-five years ago the Department of Health (DH) produced a strategy document, ‘The Gilbert Report’, on research and development in Social Services (DH 1994), which identified weak links between research in a context of evidence-based practice. Building on the themes identified by the Gilbert Report (1994), Marsh and Fisher (2005) highlighted the importance of more practice-based evidence focused on providing practice improvement. This suggested the need for more ground-up and inclusive approaches to research generation and development within local authorities including by practitioner generated research. This is important as it has been suggested that practitioners often rely on knowledge derived from colleagues, supervisors, and personal experience rather knowledge from research or other external sources (Iversen and Heggen, 2016). 

Despite innovations linked to the establishment of Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA), Making Research Count (MRC), the School for Social Care Research (SSCR), and research career development funding through the NIHR, social work and social care still lack a culture and infrastructure of support to enable practitioners to develop research focused careers. This means that there remains a paucity of evidence about ‘how effectively research is produced or used’ (Rainey et al. 2015).    

We need to promote a research culture across social work and social care organisations to increase the evaluation skills/capacity of people working in care (Forder, 2021). This is important if organisations are to respond to the challenges such as the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce (Beech et al. 2019).  

Building social care research capacity is a priority for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  In health care settings building research capacity is seen as a ‘core function’ planned through research and development (R&D). Building research capacity in social care requires the support and development of sustainable abilities and skills to enable individuals and organisations to perform high quality research, and it is important to understand what this means at all levels of the organisation. A culture of research can be fostered by strong internal organisational infrastructure which supports individual career planning and skills development link to research (Gee and Cooke, 2018).   

The NIHR provides funding opportunities for practitioners to develop research engagement in social care. In Wessex this includes the NIHR ARC Wessex Internship and Research Development Awards. Deadline for applications is 31st March 2022 https://www.arc-wx.nihr.ac.uk/our-academy/fellowships-and-internships/internships-cohort-5-2022/ 

The NIHR also fund Fellowships for those wishing to develop their research practice and details can be found here: https://www.nihr.ac.uk/explore-nihr/academy-programmes/fellowship-programme.htm 


  • Beech, J., Bottery, S., Charlesworth, A., Evans, H., Gershlick, B., Hemmings, N., Imison, C., Kahtan, P., McKenna, H., Murray, R. and Palmer, B., 2019. Closing the gap. Key areas for action on the health and care workforce. London: The Health Foundation/Nuffield Trust/The King’s Fund. 
  • Forder, J. 2021. Evaluation in adult social care: ARC KSS seminar 15 July 2021, University of Kent, available from: file (nihr.ac.uk) 
  • Gee, M. and Cooke, J., 2018. How do NHS organisations plan research capacity development? Strategies, strengths, and opportunities for improvement. BMC health services research, 18(1), pp.1-11.  
  • Iversen, A. C., & Heggen, K. 2016. Child welfare workers use of knowledge in their daily work. European Journal of Social Work, 19(2), 187–203 
  • Marsh P and Fisher M 2005. Developing the Evidence Base for Social Work and Social Care Practice. London, Social Care Institute for Excellence.  
  • Rainey, C., Woolham, J., and Stevens, M. 2015. Research capacity, knowledge, skills and use in Councils with Adult Social Care Responsibilities Findings from an online survey of research active Local Government staff. London: London School of Economics 
Meet the author(s)

Professor Lee-Ann Fenge

Director of the Centre for Seldom Heard Voices
Lee-Ann is Professor of Social Care in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences. She is a Registered Social Worker and has always been committed to advancing the professional evidence base of social care practitioners.
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