Social Worker Decision-Making


Randomised controlled trial / In progress

Estimated completion

April 2021

Focus areas

Whole system, Professionals

Delivered by

Cardiff University

Evaluated by

Cardiff University

Key Figures

Social workers make decisions that are potentially life-changing for children and families every day, many of which involve making complex judgements about likely future outcomes. However, people generally tend not to be very good at predicting the future: human susceptibility to cognitive bias means that this is a very difficult process and can result in poor decision-making. Researchers at Cardiff University are now looking to explore ways of mitigating cognitive bias in social work. 

An intervention called ‘Checklists’ (Gawande, 2011) was selected to be trialled following feedback from a pilot conducted by Cardiff, where four interventions were presented to social workers for feedback with the aim of testing one of these at scale.

The ‘Checklists’ intervention asks social workers to read a multi-stage case study about one family and then answer questions about risks and what should happen next, using a checklist to help guide their thinking. In the previous pilot, participants found this intervention to be thought-provoking, useful in helping to slow down their decision-making and increase time for reflection, and good for challenging routine approaches to decision-making. 

The evaluation design will be a two-armed randomised controlled trial (RCT), which will aim to assess the impact of the ‘Checklists’ intervention on a social worker’s forecasting accuracy, and the intervention’s ability to mitigate participants’ confirmation bias. 

The intervention will be delivered online using Qualtrics, which will randomly assign participants to either the ‘treatment’ or ‘control’ group. All registered social workers in Local Authorities in England are eligible to take part, as well as student social workers. 

Recruitment and data collection will occur on a rolling basis, starting in early December 2020 and ending in early February 2021. The final report is due to be published by April 2021.


We are funding this programme submitted by Cardiff University that seeks to apply evidence-based intervention from other fields and measure the extent to which we can understand and improve social worker decision making. As a charity organisation, we are keen to fund programmes that better the outcomes for children, young people and families by bringing the best available evidence to practitioners and other decision-makers across the children’s social care sector.