Fostering Action Research and Action Research in Fostering

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the idea for the research with her social work team and with their collabor- ation identified .... Recruitment Campaign with a previous Campaign run in 1998;.

Qualitative Social Work

Fostering Action Research and Action Research in Fostering Fiona Metcalfe and Cathy Humphreys Qualitative Social Work 2002; 1; 435 DOI: 10.1177/14733250260620856 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Qualitative Social Work Vol. 1(4): 435-450 Copyright ©2002 Sage Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi 1473-3250[200212]1:4;435-450;029506


Fostering Action Research and Action Research in Fostering Fiona Metcalfe Warwickshire Social Services, UK

Cathy Humphreys University of Warwick, UK


KEY WORDS: action research

Action research by social work practitioners provides a particularly direct means of overcoming the often cited practice/research divide within the profession. This article draws from a project within a UK local authority fostering recruitment team that examined aspects of recruitment including the impact of foster carer involvement. Characteristics of the project that contributed to its effectiveness as an action research process are discussed. These include: the important role of ‘critical conversations’ that shift and define the research direction; the advantages created by an ‘insider perspective’; maintaining flexible, but identifiable, research aims and objectives; maximizing the links between action research and practice; maintaining enthusiasm; a supportive organizational context; and the attention to ‘diffusing’ the research findings through the organization and beyond.

foster carer recruitment practitioner research social work research


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Strategies to overcome the unhelpful division between research and practice have been a constant theme in social work. In the early 1980s, the Dartington Social Research Unit held a national seminar between academics, welfare agencies, government officials, publishers, researchers, funders and practitioners which triggered an active interest in the issue of research dissemination. It highlighted among other things the chasm between ‘those who think and those who do’ (Weyts et al., 2000). Considerable energy and imagination has since been expended on devising ways of ensuring that research findings reach social workers and their managers and, to a lesser extent, that practice dilemmas are taken up by researchers. The current demand for ‘evidence-based practice’ continues this theme. While there is some controversy over what counts as evidence (Smith, 2000), the imperative to relate practice to research is increasing. In fact, it could be argued that the fostering of research-mindedness in social work practitioners will be one of the strategies for rescuing a profession beleaguered by recruitment problems and high attrition rates (Green, 2000). Action research undertaken by practitioners is one avenue through which the research/practice divide can be overcome. Research questions are defined at local level and the research is undertaken by those who are most able to use the knowledge that is generated. While there are obvious advantages to this approach, particularly in the light of the problems associated with ‘getting research to where it counts’, the complexities of sustaining an action research project has been one of the factors which has constrained its popularity as a research approach (Fuller and Petch, 1995). This article examines an action research project undertaken by a practitioner (author one) in consultation with her academic supervisor (author two) within a fostering recruitment team in Warwickshire Social Services, a local authority in England. The research examined the impact of including foster carers in the recruitment process. The article also explores factors, which upon reflection, assisted in sustaining the project through 10 action research cycles (see Figure 1). In identifying these factors, we support Checkland and Holwell’s (1998) stance that the research process should be recoverable and transparent and contribute to the body of knowledge on action research – in this case, factors which can contribute to the effectiveness of social work practitioner, action research. Initially, action research is defined, and then the background context, research findings and key characteristics that contributed positively to the project and its outcomes are discussed.

DEFINING ACTION RESEARCH Action research is an approach to research rather than a specific methodology. It involves the identification of a problem or situation, which requires improvement, followed by a process of enquiry and a planned intervention for change Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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and evaluation. This may then lead to further research, another changeorientated intervention, and evaluation, thus instituting a cyclical process (see Figure 1). The action research process is further characterized by: research with groups rather than an individual project; having an educative value for those involved; and being founded on a research relationship in which those involved are part of the change process (Hart and Bond, 1995: 37). Ideally the process involves the continuous feedback of research results to all parties. It must take account of the differences in values and power of those involved in the research, and that recognize participants are concurrently solving a problem and generating new knowledge (Bargal et al., 1992). The research project, while framed by the action research strategy, included various elements of a multi-method study, incorporating a small quantitative investigation and qualitative interviewing within a collaborative action/change process. The value of the research was seen in terms of both content (the research findings) and process (the participatory nature of the approach and the resulting applicability of research methods to day to day practice). In this approach, ‘insider’ knowledge and access are conceived as advantages that enhance the relevance and the applicability of the research. The role and value of subjectivity, the centrality of the researcher’s perspective, and the place of active self-reflection are acknowledged and valued (Bell, 1998). In doing so, a radically different relationship is possible between the research, the practitioner and the researched. In the social work context, this relationship has frequently been construed within a framework of anti-oppressive research practice, which, while not unique to social work, is nevertheless a continuous theme running through practitioner research projects (Broad and Fletcher, 1993). Critical Conversations – The Background to the Research (Figure1)

Within an action research process are ‘critical conversations’ which shift and define the research direction. These provide opportunities where important new ‘ideas for action’ are agreed (Russell and Ison, 2000). The ‘critical conversations’, which transpired at the outset of this research on fostering recruitment, were pivotal in establishing the collaborative, action orientated nature of the project and setting the research aims and objectives. These ‘conversations’ differ from the usual research dialogues in that they form an important part of the action research process and act as change and action points propelling the direction of the research along. They may occur between supervisor and practitioner, within the action learning group, or between the researcher and key stakeholders in the research. This initial process is outlined in some detail to give a flavour and an insight into the means through which the action research process was established and to highlight the essential nature of this process for the development of the research. Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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Action Research Cycles

Action (Intervention)

Evaluation (Change)


Series of meetings,

Incorporated fostering

Getting the team on

consultation with

teams’ ideas and


Fostering Team defining

contributions. Research

research proposal and

scope broadened and

remit. Team became


research stakeholders.

Critical conversation one


University Research

Framing ideas for the

Looking at a research

methods course,

research proposal in


consultation with

conjunction with


supervisor on research

supervisor and team.

design, methodology

Choosing an action

and research proposal.

research approach.

Literature search.

Critical conversation two

Series of research

Influenced and shaped

Defining the research

dialogues with foster

research through

aims and objectives

carers, team, team

discussion, feedback and

manager, incorporating


research interviews.

Critical conversation three

Setting up research

Established foster carers

CYCLE FOUR Establishing research

workshops, foster carers

and colleagues as research


introduce idea of


information evenings.

Critical conversation four

CYCLE FIVE Planning and launching Information Evenings

Positive outcome total of 8

the Information

jointly planned and run

households attending

Evenings with foster

by foster carers and

resulting 3 applications.



Near 40% conversion rate. Critical conversation five

CYCLE SIX Planning the initial

Team discussion and

Opportunity for research

visit process with

briefing about process,

stakeholders to contribute

colleagues and foster

protocols and forms to

and influence this action


be completed.

research cycle and be responsible for promoting the research. Critical conversation six


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Action Research Cycles

Action (Intervention)

Evaluation (Change)

Debriefing and

Evaluation of process,

Team practices changed to

evaluation with carers

feedback from foster

embrace carers fully in

on home visits and


recruitment and to pursue


info evenings

information evenings as a new strategy across county. Critical conversation seven

CYCLE EIGHT Conduct and analyse

14 interviews (6 in depth,

the research interviews

8 telephone interviews).

indicating a range of areas

Compare data from

Data analysis.

of interest for improving

recruitment campaigns

Data transcribed, analysed

practice. Dissemination to the team. Critical conversation eight

CYCLE NINE Wider dissemination

Diffusion of research

Research dissemination to

findings to team and

practitioners at

research stakeholders.

countywide forum. Paper considered at Best Value Review. Critical conversation nine

CYCLE TEN Changing practice and

Team meetings to discuss

Team practices and

influencing policy

and agree action plan to

planning embrace various

inform team practice

aspects of research

and influence recruitment



Critical conversation ten

(These cycles are pictorially displayed as a table, in essence they are cyclical in nature and feed into other cycles.)

Figure 1 continued

One of the authors, the practitioner researcher (Fiona Metcalfe), initiated the idea for the research with her social work team and with their collaboration identified problems that required further investigation (Critical Conversation 1). In particular the team were concerned with the number of people who initially made a fostering enquiry and then failed to follow through with Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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an application. While it was recognized that many people appropriately withdrew prior to application, the team believed that they were losing potentially very good applicants through the recruitment process. The team were keen to identify attrition points in the recruitment process and to find out through interviews more information about motivational factors. However, following the first research supervision session (Critical Conversation 2) with the other co-author, the research supervisor, it became clear that the team already had significant knowledge and data relating to the attrition points in the recruitment process. Consideration was given to the idea of a more dynamic piece of research that explored whether the involvement of foster carers would impact positively on retention within the recruitment process. The team were enthusiastic about this proposal as they recognized that this had the potential to generate greater knowledge and simultaneously alter practice. A literature review confirmed that research evidence showed foster carers frequently became interested in fostering through word of mouth. Hence, foster carers themselves were potentially significant people in the recruitment process (McCoglan, 1991; Ramsey, 1996; Shaw and Hipgrove, 1983; Triseliotis et al., 1998). Moreover, further conversations with the team and a meeting with the team manager (Critical Conversation 3) confirmed the interest and commitment to instituting and evaluating this change in practice as part of the next recruitment campaign. However, the team were also keen to hold onto the original idea of interviewing applicants/enquirers, but adapted this original aim by agreeing to target only a small sample of those who were at the point of application. This decision was based on a more realistic assessment by the practitioner researcher of the time constraints and the difficulties involved in analysing a larger interview sample. Critical Conversation 4 with foster carers changed an aspect of the project to include information evenings with foster carers as well as home visits at the applicant’s request. The influence of foster carers on the research design and the enthusiasm with which their ideas and suggestions were taken up by the recruitment team increased the number of participants involved in the action research and had the added benefit of overcoming potential problems created by the differences in power between the local authority social workers and foster carers. These ‘critical conversations’ provided the first steps in an action research spiral – the practitioner/supervisor consultation was enhanced by engaging and encouraging the team to become active participants in what was previously an individualized and static research project (albeit one that had team support). The process drew on ‘insider information’ to develop a project which was relevant and fitted within the organization’s objectives of increased user involvement and evidence-based practice. It was therefore able to marshal institutional commitment to not only the research, but to supporting its outcomes. With hindsight, the considerable investment of time and energy in Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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identifying the problem and associated action to be taken, alongside developing the collaborative framework for the project, was crucial. These steps created the model of the work that was to follow over a 12-month period, involving approximately 10 different action research cycles (see Figure 1). Each new step in the research work brought with it a parallel step in the action learning process, creating a dynamic process of planning, action, feedback and evaluation within the team and an increasing number of participants. Research Aims and Objectives

The ability to develop a project with both a clearly stated set of aims which all participants can understand and support, as well as the flexibility to incorporate new objectives as the project progresses, is an important attribute of an action research project. Checkland and Holwell (1998) suggest that this clarity is frequently lacking in action research projects, which need to identify both the knowledge gained and the methodology through which the knowledge was acquired. A series of research aims were agreed at the outset of the project cycles. They were as follows: 1 To assess the value of running two information evenings with foster carers as a recruitment method; 2 To analyse the impact of using experienced foster carers on home visit contacts; 3 To compare the data on enquiries, home visits and applications from the 1999 Recruitment Campaign with a previous Campaign run in 1998; 4 To explore, through interviews, factors motivating or deterring members of the public from pursuing their interest in fostering to the point of application.

These aims were refined through the developing action research cycles. Initially, the information on fostering recruitment was the primary motivation for an individual piece of practitioner research. However, as the work progressed, the action research cycles became the engine that drove the research, a process that took it out of the hands of one practitioner, and involved team members and foster carers in the final research design. Multiple research methods were used to explore the identified research aims: (a) Quantitative data analysis. To evaluate the impact of the two new recruitment initiatives (the involvement of foster carers in home visits with prospective applicants and the introduction of information evenings led by foster carers), data from the local authority’s previous year’s recruitment drive was compared with the data that resulted from this new campaign. The results at different points in the recruitment process were compared. A chi-squared test for significance was undertaken. (b) Qualitative data analysis. Fourteen interviews (six in-depth face to face interviews and eight shorter telephone interviews) were undertaken with a sample of foster

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carers. This was a purposeful sample that contained one person from each of the five fostering districts in the local authority, a cross section of men and women and minority ethnic enquirers, and a proportion of those who had attended information evenings or had met with a foster carer. The interview schedule was a collaborative piece of work drawn up by the practitioner researcher and her team. The team was keen to be involved and to have their views and ideas incorporated into the research design. These interviews aimed to explore the processes that created barriers or opportunities for increasing foster carer applications and retention of current carers (see Metcalfe, 2000).

The interviews were analysed, coded and the main themes distilled using grounded theory methods (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). Qualitative Findings A number of themes emerged from the foster carer interviews that both added to and confirmed other research on motivational factors (Bebbington and Miles, 1990; Dando and Minty, 1987). There was clearly a ‘right’ time for people to consider fostering in terms of their own personal circumstances and stage and age of their family members. Motivational factors included an altruistic desire to help, coupled with a realistic understanding of the nature of the task. Contact with someone who fostered was experienced as informative and helped to demystify the role. Exploration of the role of the organization indicated that a speedy, well-informed response was important. Clarity about expectations and the role, coupled with fast tracking onto an assessment course, kept commitment and motivation high for applicants. Surprisingly, one of the main barriers to people coming forward to consider fostering was not, as had been anticipated, children’s challenging behaviour, but rather the poor public image of social service departments and the subsequent suspicion, mistrust and lack of confidence in social workers which accompanied this. These concerns expressed at the onset of the application process are mirrored by research revealing dissatisfaction with the organization as one of the main reasons carers retire or resign (Bebbington and Miles, 1990; Chamberlain et al., 1992). The themes generated from the interviews provided useful evidence to assist the team in planning future work including: the involvement routinely of foster carers in recruitment; fast tracking applicants through the recruitment process; providing clear information about the fostering task; and greater attention to issues of public relations and investment in support and training to retain existing carers. From an analysis of the impact of foster carer involvement in the information evenings several important themes emerged. Prospective applicants found it helpful and useful to hear directly from carers and could relate more easily to the ‘stories’ they told. The involvement of carers demystified the fostering Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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27 April–30 June 1998

Added value of foster care home visits and information evenings 147 enquiries

31% converted to

177 enquiries

home visits

40% converted to home visits

45 home visits

28% converted to

71 home visits

16% converted to





16 applications

11% enquiries

12 applications

7% enquiries

converted to

converted to



It took 2.8 visits

It took 5.9 visits to

to secure 1

secure 1 application

application Some home visits requested do not take places for a variety of reasons. A percentage of home visits requested in May and June may not produce applications until July (or later), i.e. July 1999 9 applications and in July 1988 12 applications. A percentage of these applications will of course pertain to recruitment efforts in July. 16 Applications

9 Applications

12 Applications

12 Applications

April–June 1999

July 1999

April–June 1998

July 1999





17% of initial

13% of initial



task, furthermore foster carers acted as important brokers between the public and the social services department. Trends in the Quantitative Data One of the aims of the research was to evaluate the impact of the initiatives to involve foster carers in the recruitment process. A longitudinal study of the recruitment process over several years will need to be undertaken to confirm the significance of foster carers’ involvement in the recruitment process, particularly given the complex factors which impact upon foster carer recruitment. At this stage, the following findings are evident: the process has been evaluated positively by foster carers, team members and applicants; and the Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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percentage of applicants rose from 13% of enquiries to 17% with the involvement of foster carers in the first year. With the involvement of foster carers the conversion rate from visit to application improved. The chi square test showed that this was not a statistical significant result. However, it represented a shift which was encouraging enough for the team to decide to continue the process particularly given the more collaborative relationship that this practice encouraged between the recruitment team and experienced foster carers. It was experienced by all parties as a development in good practice in the fostering area. The information evenings, though attended in only small numbers (eight households), resulted in a comparatively high number of applications. Three households went on to apply, representing a nearly 40% conversion rate. Following on from this initial research, the team has now adopted information evenings as one of their main recruitment tools with similarly encouraging results in the second year. The attention to the data base has highlighted its inadequacies and created the impetus to change the way in which information is collected so that evaluative processes can continue more easily in the future. Some or all of these latter findings may have relevance for other local authorities and their recruitment initiatives, though care clearly needs to be taken in making generalizations from a small, local project. Reflections on the Action Research Process

Upon reflection several features contributed to the success of maintaining an action research project that may have application for other practitioner researchers. Several of these processes have already been discussed, for example, setting the foundations for the project through extensive consultation and involvement (critical conversations); the use of ‘insider information’ to establish an immediately relevant piece of evaluative research; and research aims and objectives which were explicit, but which were flexible enough to incorporate new aspects of the project as it developed. Several other factors were also significant in sustaining both the quality and ongoing process of action research, and may be aspects of the action learning process relevant for other practitioner researchers. The Parallel Processes of Action Research and Practice Foster care recruitment is not an individual process. Rather, it is a group process in which planning, action and evaluation are an integral part of every recruitment drive. Hence, the action research cycles of planning, action and evaluation mirrored practice already well established in the working dynamics of the team. While aspects of the research were over and above the everyday practices of the team (for example the semi-structured interviews) many other elements of Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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the project were easily incorporated and therefore did not stand apart as an entirely new process imposed on colleagues. An already established and dynamic group process is not essential to the success of an action research process. However, the synergy between research and practice processes is certainly an extremely helpful ingredient. At the very least, the time for reflection on practice within a relatively stable group is important. Some organizations, which are in a state of ongoing reorganization and crisis, where the staff group is constantly changing, may have particular difficulties in sustaining an ongoing action research project (Hart, 1995). In general, the parallels between practice and action research are very close. Many social work intervention models are underpinned by collaboration with service users; the establishment of goals (aims) for the work together; planning and reflection; and the review of the changes that may (or may not) have occurred through the action or intervention (De Shazer, 1985; Marsh, 1997). An outcome from this research was that the team experienced the research cycles as professionalizing and empowering (Hart and Bond, 1995). The research provided a systematic process for airing, examining and experimenting with new strategies to improve practice. The process of ‘thinking in action’ helped bridge the gap between research and practice. Everyday practices were placed in a research framework. By so doing, the research process was demystified and practice processes by the recruitment team and foster carers were re-evaluated and re-valued. A new language, which incorporated research into practice, began to be developed within the team’s conversations about their work (Metcalfe, 2000). Maintaining Enthusiasm Enthusiasm – an emotion often in short supply within the statutory social services sector – is potentially the most essential ingredient in maintaining an action research process (Russell and Ison, 2000). The work of Russell and Ison describes enthusiasm as embracing several different notions, namely, an intellectual theory, an emotion or driving force, and an important aspect of methodology. They argue that the process of action research needs to be able to ‘trigger’ the enthusiasm of those involved. They assume that people are potentially enthusiastic about some aspect of what they do, or what they consider needs to be done. The role of the researcher is to create the context in which this enthusiasm can be triggered. Enthusiasm was clearly in evidence throughout the project. The small successes of the research project along with careful attention to the microprocesses of keeping participants in the project informed, consulted and included kept the flame alive. Each positive response created the energy to engage in the next cycle. For example, the immediate excitement which foster carers expressed Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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about engaging in the recruitment process and their contribution to the planning process (the idea of information evenings), created the drive to ensure that the details of developing information packs, planning the information evenings and training the foster carers all went ahead with the active support and work from social work team members and financial commitment via the team manager for expenditure on publicity and venues. The combination of the research ‘fit’ with the foster carers and other members of the team, and the care taken to inform, feedback and build each new phase with the team meant that enthusiasm and commitment to the project emerged and increased over time. Organizational Context Invariably one of the biggest hurdles for practitioner research to confront is the amount of time that it takes. This was a project that was carefully chosen to be of a manageable size and able to be integrated into the everyday practice of the researcher. It was, therefore, research in which the practitioner experienced organizational support in the form of study days, financial support for university fees, and assistance with the transcription of tapes. While the significant increase in workload, the financial burden, and the excessive amount of time spent on the project should not be minimized, the reciprocity between the practitioner and organization (both in terms of the relevance of the research and the support of the organization) was a major contributory factor towards the research reaching ‘completion’. Establishing a clear research contract at the outset helps to clarify responsibilities and ensure the research is not only completed, but disseminated. Most practitioner research accounts (Fuller and Petch, 1995; Hart and Bond, 1995) also refer to the process through which practitioners develop research skills. Academic training, support, and supervision were integral parts of this project. They provided the ‘toolkit’ and ‘critical conversations’, which assisted in maintaining rigour and enthusiasm for the ongoing research cycles in this project. A problem alluded to in other research (Meyer, 1993) of the research leading to an academic qualification for one individual did not appear to be a major problem in this case. There was some recognition that the research needed one person intensely involved to sustain the process; that semi-structured interviews with enquirers/applicants would not have occurred without the academic impetus of the primary researcher; and that the academic support from the university was important. In this sense, this action research differed from a model of cooperative enquiry where nobody in the group has the status of a researcher (Reason, 1988, 1994), though other models, including the original work of Lewin (1946, 1947), frequently have an identified researcher(s) working with groups of people within an organization. The fact that the researcher was a member of the team, rather than in a management or supervisory position, minimized some of the Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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problems that can be created by the differential power between the primary researcher and the group (Hart and Bond, 1995: 8). ‘Diffusion’ rather than ‘Dissemination’ From the professional social work perspective, the most graphic aspect of the action research process lies in the ‘dissemination’ process. ‘Dissemination’ as a metaphor appears inadequate to describe the continuing ripple effect created by the research – there was no starting point for the ‘dissemination of the findings’, rather, a ‘learning process’ occurred. Feedback at different stages within the research cycles has meant that learning has been present from the outset of the project – initially at team level, followed by foster carers who became participants in the project, followed by different levels of senior management taking an interest in the project for the purposes of meeting their policy targets. The research has provided the basis for planning and changes to practice. The research findings of a front-line practitioner and her colleagues and foster carers have ‘diffused’ from the bottom upwards, rather than research findings percolating down from the top. As a metaphor diffusion captures the non-linear and non-hierarchical process through which ‘ideas in action’ can move through an organization. Action research through its attention to ‘situation improvement’ of a locally based problem, the inclusion of a group as participants in the research process, and the cyclical process of action, research, planning and evaluation has the potential to encourage the development of ‘reflective practitioners’ – an attitude to professionalism, which goes beyond the life of a research project. It is based in practice and feeds back into practice (Abbott and Sapsford, 1998). Such a process resulted in the team’s interest in continuing data collection, monitoring and evaluation of their future recruitment activities in collaboration with foster carers, and an active interest in the relevance of research to practice. Within this project, the processes involved in bringing foster carers into partnership with the local authority in ways which respect their experience, their contribution and professionalism are ones which may have broader applicability to organizations beyond the particular research site. As a strategy in the development of anti-discriminatory practice, evaluated positively by the foster carers involved, it has relevance, possibly regardless of more substantial evidence yet to be gathered in relation to retention and recruitment. Interestingly, though coincidentally, it is a practice now recommended by the National Standards in Foster Care (NFCA, 1999).

CONCLUSION Action research seeks to explore, understand and improve practice. The synergy between practice and research through systematic enquiry into routine ways of Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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working can enable practitioners to become better-informed professionals (Robson, 1993). This article has drawn upon a project in a fostering recruitment team and highlighted factors that contributed to an energetic and enriching research project for the action research participants. In summary we would suggest that the continuing development of action research methodology could include consideration of these ideas: • • • • • •

the role of critical conversations; flexible research aims and objectives; the reciprocity created between the parallel processes of research and practice; maintaining enthusiasm; the supportive organizational context; and acknowledgement and attention to the processes of learning created through the ‘diffusion’ of the research.

The experience from this project suggests that action research needs to be recognized as a research approach, which can contribute significantly to the development of social work practice with the potential to actively engage social workers in reflective, research-informed practice. References

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E. Hart and M. Bond (eds) Action Research for Health and Social Care. Buckingham: Open University Press. Hart, E. and Bond, M. (1995) Action Research for Health and Social Care. Buckingham: Open University Press. Lewin, K. (1946) ‘Action Research and Minority Problems’, Journal of Social Issues 2(1): 34–6. Lewin, K. (1947) ‘Frontiers in Group Dynamics II: Channels of Group Life, Social Planning, and Action Research’, Human Relations 1: 143–53. McCoglin, M. (1991) ‘Recruitment, Selection and Preparation of Foster Parents in Northern Ireland’, International Journal of Family Care 3(1): 10–16. Marsh, P. (1997) ‘Task-centered Work’, in M. Davies (ed.) The Blackwell Companion to Social Work, pp. 195–201. Oxford: Blackwell. NFCA (1999) Code of Practice on Foster Care. London: NFCA. Metcalfe, F. (2000) ‘Deciding to Foster, Action Research in Practice’, MA Research Dissertation, Department of Social Work, Warwick University, UK. Meyer, J. (1993) ‘New Paradigm Research in Practice: The Trials and Tribulations of Action Research’, Journal of Advanced Nursing 18: 1066–72. Ramsey, D. (1996) ‘Recruiting and Retaining Foster Carers, Implications of a Professional Service in Fife’, Adoption and Fostering 20(1): 42–5. Reason, P. (ed.) (1988) Human Enquiry in Action: Developments in New Paradigm Research. London: Sage. Reason, P. (1994) Participation in Human Inquiry. Sage: London. Robson, C. (1993) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitionerresearchers. Oxford: Blackwell. Russell, D. and Ison, R. (2000) ‘Enthusiasm: Developing Critical Action for Second Order Research and Development’, in R. Ison and D. Russell (eds) (2000) Agricultural Extension and Rural Development: Breaking Out of Traditions’, pp. 136–60. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shaw, M. and Hipgrove, T. (1983) Specialist Fostering. London: Batsford. Smith, D. (2000) ‘The Limits of Positivism Revisited’, ESRC Seminar Series, Theorizing Social Work Research, URL (consulted Apr. 2000): smith.html Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. London: Sage. Triseliotis, J., Borland, M. and Hill, M. (1998) Fostering Good Relations: A Study of Foster Care and Foster Carers in Scotland. Edinburgh: Stationary Office. Weyts, A., Morpeth, L. and Bullock, R. (2000) ‘Department of Health Research Overviews – Past, Present and Future: An Evaluation of the Dissemination of the Blue Book, “Child Protection: Messages from Research”’, Child and Family Social Work 2: 215–23.

Fiona Metcalfe recently completed a Masters by Research at Warwick University and is a keen advocate of practitioner research. She was, until recently, a fostering team leader, but is now a Qualifications Officer for Warwickshire Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

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County Council, Social Services Department. Address: Qualification Officer, Workforce Development, Warwickshire Social Services, Shire Hall, Warwick, CV34 4RDUK. [email: [email protected]]

Catherine Humphreys is senior lecturer in the School of Health and Social Studies at the University of Warwick. Her research interests lie in developing the links between social work research and practice and research in the area of domestic violence.

Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on April 11, 2008 © 2002 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.