The last thing social work needs is another acronym, but old habits die hard. I’m writing to introduce PINE – Practice in Need of Evidence, our latest programme to build the evidence base in social care. Dismissing thoughts of air-freshener and 90s furniture, PINE is an offer of support to take promising practice on a journey to robust evidence.
Over the last seven months, we have worked in 11 local authorities to understand what it takes to develop evidence-minded practice and we’ve learnt a number of important lessons. First and foremost, we have seen innovative and inspirational practice happening everywhere. Not necessarily well-established or well-funded practice, but relationship-based social work that makes a real difference. Secondly, one size does not fit all. Every organisation is at a different stage in their evidence journey; on an organisational level and in relation to individual projects, so we need to be adaptable. Thirdly, we’ve learnt that if we work closely with practice leaders and practitioners, we are much more likely to produce relevant and useful evidence.
So, what is PINE actually trying to achieve? Our aim is to generate and share the highest quality evidence about what works. We know that excellent practice is already happening, so we want to find it and develop it so local authorities are ready to work with us on major research projects in 2020. Our search for promising practice is deliberately broad. In an ideal world, we would like to be conducting primary research on the whole range of children’s social care, from the front door to care leavers and everything in between. This is an opportunity to develop research in areas of practice long-neglect or as yet undiscovered.
Today we’re speaking with Principal Social Workers at their network meeting in Birmingham to ask their advice about the selection criteria for PINE – we need to think carefully about where there are gaping holes in the existing evidence-base and where practitioners feel evidence would be most helpful. On our travels around the country we’ve seen examples of inspiring practice that appear to be making a real difference to children and families in a whole host of practice areas including reunification, breaking destructive cycles, adolescent risk and many more. However, we are yet to find local practice that’s been evaluated in a way that draws a causal link between practice and outcomes.
We want to find more examples of promising practice in the social care world and use PINE to prepare them for major primary research that will draw causal links between practice and outcomes. The answer to ‘what works’ lies in the sector but research and evaluation is needed to bring excellent practice to scale. If you are interested in working with us to achieve this, you can contact us to talk through your idea. We hope to announce who will be working with us on PINE in early summer, so keep a lookout for updates.