Practice Based Research Networks for Social Work Research
This symposium addresses three questions. What kinds of PBRNs can be envisioned to advance social work research? What are their benefits? And, what are their challenges? It uses a PBRN of community mental health practitioners to exemplify and address these questions.
Social work PBRNs could be based on professional guilds, advocacy coalitions, agencies contracted to provide a public service, or agencies that share an intervention or assessment technology. Advantages to PBRNS are (a) their flexibility in the questions that they can address and (b) the methods employed to answer them; (c) their efficiency, using a ready pool of participants; and (d) their ability to give voice to key stakeholders, leading to a practice-informed research agenda. Furthermore, they hold the potential to help social work fulfill its promise as a learning discipline, providing practitioners the capacity to engage in research. The challenges of PBRNs, however, are substantial. They include difficulties in maintaining member relations, securing funding, sustaining productivity, and achieving scientific excellence and utility for practitioner members. For example, NASW led a short-lived federally funded PBRN that failed in most respects. It generated little research, one peer reviewed paper, and acquired no further funding.
The first presentation introduces PBRNs as a social work research platform and describes the building of one. It describes the PBRN’s participant pool of over 1300 mental health practitioners and its structure, financing, and challenges. Results from a survey of potential members describes their willingness to participate in the PBRN, and their desires for specific types of research and learning. This survey indicated substantial interest in clinical training in evidence-supported interventions.
Building from the first project, an additional survey, the focus of the second presentation, was undertaken to examine PBRN members’ preferences for clinical training. It highlights how PBRNs can uncover the realities of on-the-ground practitioners. The clinicians were highly interested in receiving more clinical training, but only if it was relevant, advanced and inexpensive. This paper also highlights an enduring challenge of PBRNs: participation rates.
These findings led to the formation of a randomized trial of a training protocol for an evidence-supported intervention that meets the clinician’s training preferences. This is the focus of the third presentation. Together, these studies highlight how PBRNs can be mounted, how a research agenda can be built from practitioner interests, how PBRN studies can be efficient and iterative, how PBRNs can use different study designs. I also demonstrates how difficult it is to ensure high scientific standards in this kind of research.