Today’s social work practitioners work in an information age, affording them access to an unprecedented evidence-base to inform practice, while also requiring them to filter and apply an unprecedented volume of information. In order to maximise the efficient and effective use of information within social work practice, it is vital to understand how social workers inform their practice on a day-to-day basis: what sources are used, by whom, and how useful these sources are perceived to be. Equally, understanding the information practices of social workers allows educators to equip students with the skills necessary to navigate an evidence-base for practice in the information age.
Based on a multi-phase, mixed-method strategy this study addressed the information behaviour of social workers. A small-scale study (n=16), employing audio-diaries, critical incident technique interviews and semi-structured interviews, explored how social workers need, seek, acquire and use information. Building on this exploratory study, a large-scale quantitative e-survey of over 450 Irish social workers informed a map of the social work information-base. Using a quasi-census approach to recruitment, the resulting quantitative sample accounted for just under a fifth of the social work workforce in Ireland, and included representation across fields of work, grade, gender and geographical spread.
This presentation focuses on the latter phase of the study which informed the Map of the Social Work Information Base. The map plots the relative use and perceived value of over forty of the most common sources of information used to support practice. The elicited sources may be categorised as mainstay sources, regular sources, less valued sources and ‘wish list’ sources. This juxtaposition of sources highlights the strengths of existing social work information behaviour and identifies effective means for enhancing dissemination of information. The map also offers insight into aspects of information behaviour which would benefit from greater promotion, support and infrastructure.
Clear differences emerged in the information practices of social work practitioners at various grades and in various social work settings, reinforcing the need for a variety of information seeking skills. Among the key findings, the importance of the social work voice in information transfer and translation within the profession offers a foundation for consideration of various strategies which can be used to enhance and support information use.
This study provides an in-depth examination of the ancillary, but nonetheless vital information behaviour that supports social work practice. For practitioners it offers an insight into sources of information and their perceived value; for educators it elucidates the type of information skills that students need to be equipped with; for the profession is foregrounds the aspects of information behaviour that require more attention and the aspects that can be built on; and for policy makers it offers a map to the means by which information can be channeled to social work practitioners.