RPP 19 1 Editorial

Research Policy and Planning: The journal of the Social Services Research Group – Vol 19 (1) 2001


The emergence of SCIE focuses attention on the role and purposes of social care research. The establishment of the new Institute confirms the political and national relevance of research in social care and confers on the discipline a public standing which, while not commensurate with that of clinical research, is nevertheless welcome. The distinctive nature of this recognition is also positive as social care research is constructed as a separate enterprise rather than brought under the umbrella of medical research.

Practitioners of social care research, including members of SSRG, have been required in the run-up to SCIE to consider what constitutes evidence, validity and reliability and how different forms of evidence, including user views, can be brought together. The enduring question of how research can be made relevant and accessible for practitioners, managers and planners has still to be answered and a key task for SCIE will be to draw the various models of research, dissemination and implementation together.

The integrity of research requires a distance to be maintained between political imperatives, the interests of service providers and the research communities. Researchers are increasingly called to account by user groups as well as by those commissioning research. SCIE’s ability to negotiate a space for itself between these differing interests will be crucial to its success. It will need to be alert to political pressure to prescribe its agenda and be able to manage the conflicts that will ensue when research findings threaten real, unpopular or expensive change.

In this respect, the call to focus on ‘what works’ suggests cause for concern since the phrase is a slippery one which obscures the potential for differing agendas and interpretations. What works for whom and what is meant by the term ‘working’ need to be interrogated. Research frequently involves identifying conflict and difference and the research process is often constructed with the aim of allowing different voices to emerge and speak to one another.

This theme of conflicting interpretations is evident in Shaw and Shaw’s article in this issue. Their rigorous review of the literature identifies a number of divergent perspectives on the concept of risk and they apply these to some key aspects of the research task. Barnes and Kendall’s reflective account of a consultation exercise with disabled people emphasises the need to contextualise consultation and recognises that the process may have different outcomes for those who participate, other than the issues identified for discussion. Holme and Hanmore’s article also describes a consultation exercise, this time with disabled children, with a useful focus on the range of approaches used to communicate with individual children. Finally, we include a report on the very stimulating day workshop organised by SEARIG and SSRG in Hove in June on the subject of the research friendly workplace.

This journal welcomes contributions from the research

and policy community which both report research

findings and discuss the research process. We would

also encourage those involved in the task of translating

research into practice and planning to share their

experiences with the journal’s readership which

has been augmented by on-line access. We are keen

to attract more reviewers of both books and articles

for the journal and those interested should email

the editors.

This issue is the first under new editorship and the work of the previous editors, Carol Lupton and Lesley Saunders, should be acknowledged here. They have done an excellent job in developing the journal and maintaining its high standards. As new editors, based at the University of Hull, we aim to continue their work in providing an accessible outlet for research findings, discussion and debate. We anticipate high levels of expectation around the ‘modernised’ agendas: they will be required to demonstrate applicability and effect. Communication through journals such as Research, Policy and Planning can help explore whether these agendas have been appropriately constructed.

Nicky Stanley and Jill Manthorpe

September 2001