Advancing Social Work Practice Through University-Agency EBP Partnerships: Results From A National Study
The implementation of evidence-based practice (EBP) has been less than optimal. Partnerships between schools of social work and agencies to promote EBP offer a promising solution to the challenge. However, little is known about the implementation of partnerships efforts between schools and agencies to support EBP. Understanding this gap is critical to develop effective strategies of implementing EBP and evidence-supported interventions (ESI). This study complements data collected by this research team through a national survey of EBP partnerships between schools of social work and agencies; it provides an insightful overview of the frequency, variety, and nature of EBP partnerships between schools and agencies. These areas cover respondents’ experiences and perspective on (1) current involvement of partnership efforts to promote EBP (2) benefits and barriers of EBP to her/his efforts, schools, and agencies (3) assessments and strategies planned and taken on how to improve partnership efforts (4) level of awareness about various level of partnership efforts, individual and/or institutional, in her/his school as identified in the national survey.
A purposive sampling of participants with experience in partnering with community-based social work agencies to promote EBP were interviewed. The participants were identified by deans and directors of schools of social work who participated in a national web-based survey of CSWE-accredited schools of social work. Potential respondents were selected to maximize variance and representation on these factors and recruited via e-mail and telephone. Twenty-nine telephone 60-90 minute interviews with school of social work faculty, staff, and administrators were completed. The interviews were audio taped and transcribed for accuracy. Two members of the research team independently conducted open-coding of the qualitative interviews using a constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Inter-coder reliability was monitored throughout the process and any discrepancies were revisited until consensus was reached.
Analyses of the qualitative interview data expand the findings from the national survey. Numerous service contexts were evidenced in the partnership efforts. Benefits and barriers of partnership efforts were described at both individual (e.g. student, individual faculty) and institutional levels (e.g. agencies, schools, research centers). Organizational resources, culture, climate, and tenure track evaluation systems were persistent obstacles. The lack of useful research evidence in some substantive service areas was also identified as a barrier. The balance between autonomy and relationship building between academic institutions and social service agencies were highlighted as critical to the success of these collaborative efforts. Positive strategies to address the barriers to the benefit of both agencies and schools were described and will be presented in relationship to the type of EBP partnerships evidenced.
The interview data expands our understanding on developing, implementing and sustaining agency-university EBP partnerships in social work. The findings demonstrate that EBP is a feasible yet challenging practice approach that can be supported by multi-system partnerships to facilitate the movement of research into practice. Further refinement and testing of identified promising EBP partnership models is needed to provide schools of social work and social service agencies more guidance on moving partnership efforts forward.