International Doctoral Practice Research Seminar

Hosted by the Helsinki Practice Research Centre, University of Helsinki, The Centre of Social Work Innovation and Research, University of Sussex, UK, and The University of Melbourne, Australia

This seminar will focus on research being conducted in professional practice, exploring in particular aspects of the substantive research topic and research design of three doctoral research projects being conducted
in three distinctive international settings.

Jo Williams - University of Sussex, UK
‘Reflect, Draw, Write, Talk:Co-developing creative psycho-social methods of inquiry with social work supervisors to explore beneath the surface of their work’

Rachel Blance-Palmer - University of Melbourne, Australia
‘Elder Abuse: Responding effectively to a window of opportunity in healthcare’

Nanne Isokuortti - University of Helsinki, Finland
‘Understanding Complex Implementation in Social Services: Findings from a process evaluation of the Systemic Practice Model in Finland’

Date: Monday 12 December, 2022
Time: 8-10am UK time / 10am-12pm Helsinki time / 7-9pm Melbourne time

Zoom link:




Jo Williams, University of Sussex

Reflect, Draw, Write, Talk: Co-developing creative psycho-social methods of inquiry with social work supervisors to explore beneath the surface of their work

This session presents reflections and insights from co-developing creative research methods from a doctoral study, situated in England during the covid-19 pandemic, where co-creation with social work participants became a more prominent focus. The study examined social work supervisors in child and family social work and how they navigate relationships with their supervisees, using a psychosocial approach to ethnography. A method of ‘reflect, draw, write, and talk’ was developed as a means of the researcher and participant reflecting on the supervisors key interactions with their supervisees and the feelings this evoked for them. This data generating method was co-developed in a hybrid, online and in-person, ethnographic research space to respond to the emerging social distancing guidelines.

Learning is shared about the value of developing a relationship based approach to research using creative methods to invite research participants to explore the beneath the surface aspects of their role. It is concluded that modelling a relational and creative approach serves to close the gap between research and practice. It also has the potential to be applied and influence social work practice with children and families. Examples of data will be shared within the presentation, followed by a facilitated experiential exercise for seminar participants to explore their responses to the data.


Rachel Blance-Palmer, University of Melbourne

Elder Abuse: Responding effectively to a window of opportunity in healthcare

Elder abuse is a global health and social issue which is predicted to increase with an ageing population. A high percentage of hospital patients are elderly, making hospitals a window of opportunity to identify and manage elder abuse. Anecdotal evidence from Australian public hospitals suggests that social workers are often the key clinician leading the hospitals response to elder abuse, as they have the skills and knowledge to manage an issue which is often entrenched in complex social dynamics. However, the practice issue emerged that little is known about the social work role in the response to elder abuse. Subsequently the following research question was developed to guide this PhD “What are the unique contributions of the social work role in a hospital response to elder abuse?”.

Methodological pluralism has been applied to the planning for this PhD, with different research phases using different methodologies. The first stage of this research is a systematic scoping review of literature that included terms related to “social work*”, “hospital*”, “elder*” and “abus*” in the title or abstract. Six relevant databases, four leading journals in this field and grey literature were searched for articles published between January 2000 and December 2021. Database subject headings were also used to ensure that relevant literature that did not use the search terms in the title or abstract would still be captured. The database search results were exported and recorded in Covidence. A social work expert in the field of elder abuse (HR) independently reviewed a random sample of 10% of the retrieved papers and consensus was reached on their inclusion. A data extraction tool was developed in consultation with two researchers (LJ and MK) and the elder abuse expert. Data extracted included the social work role, interventions, and referrals. The data extraction tool was then piloted by the primary researcher and elder abuse expert. Data was then extracted from included papers and appraised using the Joanna Briggs Institute critical appraisal tool. Data are being synthesised using a thematic grounding technique and will be descriptively analysed.

The second study will utilise a mixed methods survey to explore current national hospital practices around responding to elder abuse and identify how social work contributes to this. The third study will draw upon the existing literature and use a co-creation approach to develop, implement, and evaluate an evidence informed hospital best practice framework for elder abuse responses.

A total of 19 publications have been included (17 from the database search and 2 from the journal search). The research is primarily American (n=12) and focused on social workers supporting patients in the Emergency Department setting. The social work role was found to be typically consultative in nature, providing expert knowledge and referring to community supports. The literature largely discusses the “multi-disciplinary team”, making it difficult to determine scope and contributions of the specific social work role.

Social workers are recognised as being key clinicians in the hospitals response to elder abuse but there is minimal information describing their role following an elder abuse referral. There is a need to explore the role of hospital social work in the response to elder abuse to support patient experiences and outcomes. Further research is critical for the development of an evidence informed best practice framework for hospitals and this PhD aims to develop and evaluate that.


Nanne Isokuortti, University of Helsinki

Understanding complex implementation: findings from a process evaluation of the Systemic Practice Model in Finnish child protection

Introducing new innovations into complex implementation environments such as child protection services is demanding. However, implementation research can provide a better understanding of how and why interventions work in different contexts and the extent to which their outcomes can be improved. This presentation synthesizes findings from a process evaluation, i.e., a comprehensive analysis of implementation process, of the Systemic Practice Model (SPM) in Finland. The SPM is an adaptation of the Reclaiming Social Work (RSW) model, originally developed in England. The aim of the model is to improve quality of service by integrating systemic family therapy with child and family social work.

Qualitative data was collected from various stakeholders at the system, organisation, practitioner, and service user levels to examine how the implementation of the SPM was achieved, what was actually delivered in practice, and were potential factors influencing its implementation. Furthermore, to investigate how and why the SPM should attain its outcomes and in what context, a programme theory for the model was created in a collaborative workshop process with a group of key informants.

The implementation analyses found complex linkages between implementation outcomes and influencing factors at different levels. Essentially, challenges related to the Finnish adaptation and its national implementation strategy potentially contributed to high variation in the delivery of trainings and, presumably, practical implementation of the SPM in service sites. Although practitioners felt positive about the model, barriers (e.g., a lack of clarity concerning systemic practice and high caseloads) to apply it in practice seemed to weaken their motivation to change. Subsequently, the assessment of fidelity (i.e., the extent to which the model was put into practice as intended) indicated limited changes in practice. The formulated programme theory outlines the SPM’s core components and change mechanisms, and thereby can be used to support the model’s implementation and evaluation in the future.

Given that process evaluations aim to provide in-depth understanding of change efforts in practice, they can offer valuable information to policy and practice stakeholders and aid implementation in complex service systems. In conclusion, the results indicate that careful preparation, a clear intervention description, supportive leadership, and ongoing support in multiple levels are important in future implementation.