Virkesanalyse og læring i socialt arbejde

Gitte Duus

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis


The dissertation is based on two main inquiries. The aim of the first one was to examine the effects of a particular method of professional learning in social work. The other was intended to explore action research as a method of research for the development of new methods in social work. While the former examination has an empirical foundation, the latter is primarily based on contributions from methodology and epistemology. The two ?tracks? in the dissertation are dialogically related, as the inquiry into action research as a research method constitutes an account of the research approach to the empirical examination, while this, in turn, brings about the concrete experience with action research. My inquiry and the resulting development of the method of was motivated by recent trends in social work in Denmark, viz. an apparent need for new methods in professional development, an increased demand for documentation and quality in performance, and a presumed potential of greater interaction between research and practice. The presented method consists partly in a predominantly analytical discovery phase, partly in a predominantly intervening phase. The first phase takes its point of departure in an overall consideration of the institution?s activities, while in the latter phase practice is being observed according to procedures established in phase one. The observations subsequently form the basis for a dialogue with the staff on the actual practice. In relation to client work, the development and research into activity analysis is an indirect method in that it focuses on the staff?s learning processes. activity analysis The investigation of the effects of was carried out through an ?action experiment? in which, the method was implemented in two institutions working with young people. In both institutions, one of which is a public, the other a private institution, the staff had agreed to embark on a developmental sequence lasting approximately one year. In the analysis of the sequence, the approach to the identification of the method?s effects consisted in identifying changes in problem solving behaviour in staff. After the sequence, status interviews were conducted at individual as well as at group level. In the interviews evaluations were made on perceived changes in potentials stated by the staff before the sequence had begun. Finally, staff members answered a written questionnaire on types of learning processes in the individual phases of the sequence. activity analysis The other inquiry, which concerns action research as a research method, aimed at clarifying and elaborating on a research approach to practice which has an action perspective as its overriding interest. The importance of this perspective is examined on several levels: with regard to research typology, epistemologically, as well as on the methodological and conceptual levels. This is done by the presentation of two different action research perspectives which have served as inspiration for my proposal for an action research method suited for the testing and development of the . activity analysis With regard to research typology, the dissertation thus positions itself in relation to both the development of social work and the actual empirical project with an approach to action research that has human flourishing as its overriding goal while its perspective on action is both uncovering and emergent developmental. Concerning the epistemological position, the stance taken is that research is not and cannot be value-free. At the same time it is assumed that all forms of social life have a subjective as well as an objective aspect. The empirical study is defined as an action-experiment, or an arranged ?reality experiment? in which normativity is acknowledged and the effects of concrete action is intended to be raised to awareness by sharing control and working with hypotheses, that are known by all participants. The experiment was intended to affect staff practice; the knowledge created or uncovered being both ?can? and ?be? knowledge. The framework for working in order to create development is the double perspective of on the one hand something , and on the other hand something , and the importance of connecting these in understanding and learning in relation to action. The dissertation takes its point of departure in an understanding of practice as both problem-setting and problem-solving, and, as a consequence, the research approach of the inquiry has its primary foundation in a perspective of experiential learning. experienced from within observed and understood from without TTT    On a general level it was found that in both institutions changes in staff problem-solving practices that could be related to the implementation of took place. Yet, the receptiveness to the project and the ensuing change processes were far more pronounced in the public institution. This was also reflected in the fact that in this institution, more comprehensive group learning processes could be perceived, learning processes that may be characterised as higher level learning processes. The developmental sequence in the public institution thus indicated the learning potentials of while the sequence in the private institution called attention to certain weaknesses and the need for further clarifications and possible changes in the method and its implementation. activity analysis activity analysis On the basis of the empirical inquiry into it is the overall conclusion that the method has the potential to catalyse processes creating considerable group level learning in institutions, with raised professional standards as a result. With regard to the first exploratory phase, the method as a whole appears to be effective when the exploration of the group?s potential is conducted thoroughly and meticulously. This places great demands on the initiator charged with the responsibility for the practical implementation of the analysis. activity analysis Nevertheless, it is demonstrated that the predominantly interventional second phase possesses the greatest learning potential, a potential that stresses abstract conceptualisation and reflection, based on active experimentation and concrete experiences. In relation to the implementation of the second phase, it is argued that learning potentials will be enhanced by the use of a rather simple conceptual frame for the staff?s own understanding of the experienced practice. Furthermore, the results indicate the need for a number of adjustments to the method:   §          The process leader?s contact to individual staff members (in the development dialogue) should be considered carefully in each case, in particular with regard to the degree of group- internal trust. §          The balance between phases one and two should be regulated so as to shorten the relative length of phase one. §          The initial exploratory processes should be characterised by openness towards the question concerning the relevancy of to the institution?s predominant problematic. A decision on this question should be taken as early as possible. activity analysis §          The concepts presented should always have direct bearing on experienced or experimental practice, and the complexity of the conceptual frame should be adjusted to the length of phase two. §          Attention should be directed towards the choice of practice field, in order that this field may provide empirical data that are directly relevant to the chosen focus point. §          Explicit use of the term should be subjected to further consideration and examination. zone of proximal development Besides the findings concerning the method itself, the inquiry identified a difference with regard to in the two institutions involved. In the public institution this tendency resulted in what I term the , resulting in an exaggerated emphasis on care rather than reasonable demands in the treatment of the young people. Among the staff a tendency towards personification of communication rather than professionalisation was observed. defensive tendencies care trap In the private institution the defensive tendency expressed itself in an , resulting in the takeover of responsibility from the clients. Staff members experienced feelings of isolation and wear out. In a perspective of systemic organisational theory, the dissertation relates the two ?traps? to the current process of displacement of social work from the public to the private sector. Because of the differing conditions and the implicit values and goals affecting the organisations in modern society?s markets, this displacement was assumed to strengthen the pressure for efficiency on private social work, while the ideals of public social work appears to be restricted to caretaking and the protection of the child?s interests. efficiency trap On the basis of the theoretical inquiry it is concluded that action research is indeed useful in the development of new methods in social work. This conclusion is supported primarily by the fact that social work shares both its aims and object field with action research, concerned as they both are with human flourishing and the central position of action and practice in both. Further, attention is directed towards the democratic aspects of action research as well as its potential for pointing out questions of power relations in research. Likewise, on the epistemological level, two circumstances are emphasized. Firstly that action should not be understood as value-neutral, and secondly that critical theory contains a double perspective. The empirical chapters support the conclusion that action research is useful in method development, but the necessity of further examination of its potentials is pointed out. As an example, certain problematics concerning validity point up the need for a more precise understanding of empirical testing in an action context, just as the interaction between researcher and his or her field should be further explored. The experience gained in this project further indicates the usefulness of action research in simultaneous parallel sequences. In conclusion, a number of current initiatives aiming at strengthening the quality of social work in Denmark is discussed in the light of the findings and intentions presented in the dissertation. It is argued that conceptualisation presents itself as a topical subject for further learning among social workers.
Original languageDanish
Place of PublicationInstitut for Sociale Forhold
PublisherAalborg Universitetsforlag
Number of pages359
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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