IASWR and Evidence-Based Practice:
The words ‘evidence-based
practice’ (EBP) are permeating the education, practice, research and policy arenas in social work and many other disciplines.
Tasked with working within the profession to develop social work’s knowledge
base, the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR) monitors developments related to EBP and is undertaking
initiatives to strengthen the linkages between research and practice and research and policy, including identifying and supporting
evidence-based practice efforts within social work education.
Definitions and Criteria. The Institute of Medicine (2001) defines
evidence-based medicine as the integration of best researched evidence and clinical expertise with patient values.
This definition has been readily adapted into a social work context. For example,
the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators’ (NAPCWA) Guide
for Child Welfare Administrators on Evidence-Based Practice uses the IOM definition, but changes “patient values”
to “family/client values” (Wilson & Alexandra, 2005).
It is important to distinguish evidence-based practice from evidence-based
practices. Evidence-based practice is a multi-step process to identify the
most appropriate intervention or social work action, based on finding and assessing the best available research evidence,
and then using the critical thinking and assessment skills to combine the research findings with professional expertise and
ethics and understanding of the client’s situation and values. Evidence-based
practices are defined as discrete interventions that have been identified as meeting a certain standard of evidence, often
based in part on an assessment of the rigor and power of the research. Several
government agencies have developed clearinghouses for evidence-based practices. For
¨ http://cancercontrolplanet.cancer.gov: Cancer Control PLANET (Plan, Link, Act, Network with Evidence-based Tools) developed
by the National Cancer Institute.
¨ http://www.w-w-c.org/: What Works Clearinghouse, developed by the Department of Education (to provide
educators, policymakers, and the public with a central, independent, and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works
¨ http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints/index.html: Blueprints for Violence Prevention, developed by the Office of Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention to identify research-based effective programs.
These clearinghouses need to include
in their understanding of evidence-based practices a clear and transparent description of the criteria that are used for selection
of programs that are evidence-based. The National Association of State Mental
Health Program Directors; Research Institute (NRI) has useful information about defining evidence-based practices, a directory
of several resources that describe criteria for defining which practices are evidence-based as well as important information
in implementation of evidence-based mental health practices. For more information,
visit NRI’s Center for Mental Health Quality and Accountability at http://www.nri-inc.org/projects/CMHQA/criteria_epb.cfm.
Teaching. In October 2006, the University of Texas, Austin
convened a symposium, “Improving the Teaching of Evidence-Based Practice.”
To kick off the symposium eight papers and four reactor papers, including one by IASWR Executive Director Joan Levy
Zlotnik were commissioned and more than 150 participants worked in small groups to make recommendations to address the symposium’s
goal. To review the papers and the recommendations visit: http://www.utexas.edu/ssw/ceu/practice/articles.html.
Research. Research plays an important role in EBP, since the best
available research evidence is one important leg of the three legged stool of EBP. Although some EBP efforts only include
research evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCT), from a social work perspective both quantitative and qualitative
research provides important inputs for EBP. Furthermore, there are a limited number of social service interventions for which
there are sufficient RCTs to use as the only research evidence and RCTs may not be an appropriate research method to address
some social problems. One growing area of research assessment includes systematic
reviews of research such as those supported by the Campbell Collaboration (C2) (www.campbellcollaboration.org). Such reviews may often include
meta-analyses that use a statistical process to compare and combine the outcomes from studies of specific interventions. C2 provides a valuable website with information on the outcomes of systematic reviews
as well as reviews that are underway. Other international resources include the
Social Care Institute for Excellence, www.scie.org.uk, which is working to create a knowledge base of what works best for people who
use social care and the Evidence Network of the United Kingdom’s
Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice, email@example.com.
IASWR’s efforts to promote
high quality social work research are one path toward strengthening the social work profession’s evidence-base. IASWR
is also involved in tracking activities related to EBP in the practice, research, policy and practice community. One such activity is highlighted below.
IOM Committee on Quality of Health
Care in America (2001). Crossing the Quality Chasm. Washington,
DC: National Academies Press.
Wilson, C. & Alexandra, L. (2005).
Guide for Child Welfare Administrators on Evidence-Based Practice. Washington,
DC: National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators. Retrieved January 16, 2007 from http://www.aphsa.org/home/doc/Guide-for-Evidence-Based-Practice.pdf