The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

A Scoping Review of Doctoral Scholarship in Canada: Implications for the Discipline

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Lucyna M. Lach, PhD, Associate Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
David W. Rothwell, PhD, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Anne Blumenthal, BSW, Research Assistant, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Purpose:  The nature and types of social work research generated in doctoral programs has been well-studied in the US.  Doctoral programs in Canada, in comparison, are much younger; the first doctoral program was created in the mid-1970s.  To date, there is no systematic understanding of the nature and types of knowledge produced within Schools and Faculties of Social Work.  An overview of this knowledge is not only an indication of the state of the field; it is also an indication of the types of knowledge that will be perpetuated in the near future as aging faculty retire.  This study describes the research methods and analytic designs as well as key substantive areas produced within doctoral dissertations in Canada over a ten year period.

Method: A database was created from a search of Canadian social work dissertations published between 2001-2011 using the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database (PQDT). To verify the sample, doctoral program directors were contacted and independently confirmed the sample names and dissertation titles by year.  Full text dissertations were retrieved for review.  Data pertaining to 12 research methodology variables (e.g., quantitative/qualitative/mixed method, presence/absence of hypothesis, primary or secondary data source, sample size, etc.) was extracted from each dissertation.  Inter-rater reliability for a random selection of 1/3 of the cases was 0.82.  Conflicts were resolved through consensus.

Results: Of the 296 dissertations identified to have been published between 2001 and 2011, 249 were found in full text format on PQDT (84%). Of those 249, 163 used qualitative methods (65%), 41 used quantitative methods (16%) and 45 used mixed methods (18%). The following methods were employed in the qualitative and mixed methods theses: 23% qualitative description, 22% grounded theory, 11% phenomenology, 5% ethnographies, and 3% case studies. A large proportion of qualitative methodologies (26%) could not be easily classified into one of the major qualitative methodologies. A minority of the entire sample (33%) examined a social work intervention, defined as an action taken by a social worker or other agent to maintain or improve the well-being of a community, family, or individual. Substantive areas covered a broad spectrum of topics reflective of social work’s diversity. Child welfare and social work education were the most common substantive areas (8%) followed by interpersonal violence (7%).  

Conclusions and Implications: The results from this first known scoping review of doctoral scholarship indicate that qualitative methodology is the most prevalent in Canada.  Qualitative methodologies were inconsistently operationalized across studies. On one hand, the predominance of qualitative methodologies suggests that social work researchers are contributing to depth of understanding related to critical social processes and problems. Alternatively, and based on the limited number of intervention studies, the results raise serious concerns about social work researchers’ ability to generate diverse forms of knowledge that inform evidence-based policies and practices.