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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

This is the first time that Durham University has submitted to Social Work, research in this subject having previously been subsumed under Sociology. Since the last RAE, the University has appointed its first professor in this field (Carpenter), 3/7 of the HEFCE-funded staff have changed, and there has been a very significant increase in research activity. This is evident during this period in research awards in excess of £2.5m, a group of 10 full-time postgraduate research students and the employment of 9 postdoctoral research staff over the period, publications and other forms of dissemination. This rapid growth has been made on the basis of a relatively small core group of seven staff. But, as we aim to demonstrate in this submission, the group’s research has made an impact nationally and internationally. Further, resources for substantial future developments, including research grants and two new research centres have been secured.

All staff belong to a single research group. This comprises members of four centres established at various times within the University: the Community and Youth Work Studies Unit (CYW, established 1976), the Centre for Applied Social Studies (CASS, est. 1992), both teaching and research units, and two new separately funded research centres, the Centre for the Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine (CAHHM est. Jan. 2000), and the Centre for Public Mental Health (est. in CASS in October 2000). Although the centres each act as a focus for research in particular areas, we emphasise collaborative working and a common approach, as explained below.

In two specific areas the group claims to be among the leading UoAs submitting to the Panel. The Centre for Applied Social Studies, now including the Centre for Public Mental Health, has developed into one of the leading multidisciplinary centres for research on community mental health services, with a strong and direct influence on national policy development and implementation. Similarly, Community and Youth Work members are recognised as the primary centre for research in community and youth work.

The primary areas of the group’s interests, community care for adults, community services for children and young people, and professional ethics all relate clearly, but not exclusively, to the practice of social work and the provision of social welfare and related healthcare. Most of our work crosses interprofessional and interagency boundaries and this we consider is one reason for our success in obtaining research grants. Further, in line with general trends in social science research (vide ESRC) we are firmly committed to a multidisciplinary approach. We aim explicitly to integrate disciplinary perspectives from inter alia, social and organisational psychology, sociology, social policy, philosophy, psychiatry and public health medicine. We use skills in a full range of quantitative and qualitative social research methods according to the demands of the research questions posed. We subscribe to a shared value base which emphasises the empowerment of services users, communities and staff.

Research culture

The group meets as a whole fortnightly during term. These meetings provide a supportive but challenging environment in which members discuss ideas and preliminary research proposals, present research findings and discuss methodology and research ethics. The multidisciplinary membership of the group is particularly valuable in these discussions. Occasional awaydays are used to formulate and review the research strategy. In addition, members of the group contribute to two wider monthly research meetings, the Department of Sociology and Social Policy’s seminar and the University Health Forum.
These meetings have encouraged joint writing and research within the group and across the centres, notably on ethics (Banks, Imam, Jeffs) mental health (Carpenter, Schneider, Barnes), children and families (Carpenter, Imam, Hackett, Jeffs, Spence) and the professions (Banks, Imam, Barnes, Carpenter). Macnaughton joined the group in January 2000 and is developing joint research proposals on professional education and community arts. Glover took up post in December 2000. He was already working with Barnes for the Department of Health on a comprehensive mapping of mental health services in England, and they have secured a grant to develop and pilot the mapping of child and adolescent mental health services.

The group has pursued a policy of seeking research grants from external bodies. In this it has been extremely successful, with over £2.5m in grants awarded during the assessment period. All members hold or have held grants during this period (average 6) and have managed the work of one or more research assistants. Part of the income on each project is used to buy relief teaching, freeing staff time for project management, analysis and report writing. Research leave (one term in nine) is awarded on merit, with all applications vetted by the departmental research committee.

We see the development of new researchers in this field as vital for the future. An important achievement has been to establish an enthusiastic and energetic group of 9 full-time postgraduate students (three of whom with second supervisors in Sociology and one in Geography) drawn from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. Students work as assistants on funded projects (the ‘science model’), or on closely related work. This ensures coherence and vitality. Already two PhD students from the Department have been appointed to 3 and 5 year research contracts respectively. We take postgraduate students on research placements from Surrey University, Hogeschool Maastricht and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

We have invested in high specification computer hardware and software, including the FORMIC data scanning system, and developed www sites for research dissemination. Staff and postgraduate students use courses in IT and in the computer analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. The Department of Sociology and Social Policy, of which the group is a constituent member, has a comprehensive ESRC-recognised (A&B) research training programme. CASS provides the core component in policy-related and evaluation research and related dissertation supervision. This training is required for research post-graduates, who also receive an annual allowance for conference attendance, books and research materials. A staff-student research and upgrading seminar happens monthly. All postgraduates are members of the University’s Graduate School, which runs an extensive induction and training programme tailored to graduate research students in the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Graduate School provides an overarching structure for monitoring students’ progress. Students are also members of one of the university’s colleges which play a major role in pastoral support. We have two dedicated research secretary posts (one awaiting appointment) and buy in additional time as required. Staff use courses on supervising research students, making research grant applications, writing for publication and career planning for contract researchers provided by the University’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Research in HE.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration
As noted above, we function as a multidisciplinary group. In addition, within Durham University, staff have engaged in collaborative funded projects with the Centre for Public Sector Management Research and the Department of Sociology (joint contracts) and have sub-contracted research to Geography and Statistics. Ideas for collaborative research and scholarship are developed in the University Applied Ethics Symposia and the Health Forum.

Externally, we collaborate with many of the major research groups in national projects of funded research on community care, and child care. Research partners include psychologists, psychiatrists, health economists, paediatricians, geographers and ethicists at centres including the Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, PSSRU at Kent and LSE, School of Psychiatry at Manchester, the Tizard Centre at Kent, the Social Work Research Centre in Stirling, the Institute of Child Health and the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Institute at Newcastle.

Research collaborations with public and voluntary sector

Research projects have been commissioned by national and local organisations. These include the Department of Health and the NHS Executive, the Local Government Management Board (now IDeA), the National Youth Agency, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, the Groundwork Trust, Northern Arts, health authorities, social services departments, TECs, and the police and probation services. In all these projects we choose to work with stakeholder steering groups. In evaluative research, we aspire to a ‘utilisation-focused’ approach so as to ensure that the methodology and findings are tailored to the requirements of the stakeholders as well as our own.
We work with many voluntary organisations on projects commissioned by statutory organisations. Examples include, research with advocacy groups to develop a strategy for County Durham (Barnes), and research on the effects of the minimum wage for the Association for Supported Employment, funded by the Low Pay Commission (Schneider). Many projects are undertaken in collaboration with service users. For example, Barnes and Carpenter (2000) on ‘user-defined outcomes’ of professional education and community care; involving users in care management (Carpenter, 1997); South Asian carers of children with disabilities (Carpenter and Imam); and with young people in the County Durham Investing in Children evaluation (Banks) and the Odyssey mentoring project (Jeffs).

Research dissemination
Dissemination to a wide range of appropriate audiences outside and inside the discipline is a key objective. We target publications carefully, for example in high status and multidisciplinary journals such as the British Journal of Psychiatry, the Lancet and the Journal of Mental Health, as well as to specialist journals which reach both an academic and practice audience, e.g. Youth and Policy, British Journal of Social Work, Journal of Interprofessional Care and the Psychiatric Bulletin. We also prioritise chapters in edited collections published by the major houses, including the definitive text on youth work ethics (Banks, Routledge).

The dissemination of research findings to stakeholders is a key element in the utilisation-focused approach. We always work with advisory groups and sometimes wider reference groups, and plan dissemination strategies. These typically involve meetings with senior managers and commissioners, presentations and workshops, specially written reports and short articles in newsletters for service users and professionals. Descriptions of all research projects and summaries of findings are placed on the www. Commissioned research for the Department of Health is presented to senior policy officers and its implications discussed. As noted below, research findings have had a significant influence on national mental health policy.

Research into practice: We have joined the University of York in the Making Research Count initiative, and through this disseminate findings from our own research to SSDs and health services in the North East and also support their implementation through application workshops. Carpenter addressed the ADSS Research conference and the ESRC series on Theorising Social Work Research. In 2000, we initiated a university-wide research partnership with Durham and Darlington Health Authority and Durham and Darlington SSDs to commission and disseminate research. A unique three-year action research project for Durham SSD involves training all childcare teams for research-informed practice through the medium of practice development groups, researching the process of implementation and evaluating the outcomes for staff and service users (Hackett and Carpenter). An ESRC CASE studentship held with the Geography Department in partnership with Durham Rural Community Council is developing the research awareness and capacity of voluntary sector organisations in the field of rural community development and evaluating the outcomes.

Staffing policy
We implement a written policy for all staff including research leave, peer appraisal, career development reviews, mentoring, research training, and funding to investigate research opportunities and to attend and present at national and international conferences. We see quality assurance as an integral part of the research group’s task and to this end we operate a mentoring system, whereby a more experienced researcher works with a less experienced one, and grant applications are designed accordingly.

Career development for contract research staff includes partnership in new grant applications, supervision in conducting smaller projects on their own, providing teaching opportunities, and support to move on to permanent contracts in the University and elsewhere (e.g. the Wellcome Trust). The University has awarded Barnes a permanent research fellowship.

New staff/initiatives
is Director of a new Nuffield Foundation-supported Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine which involves academics, arts administrators, health and community based professionals and artists. It is committed to the academic study of the role of the arts and humanities in improving the quality of community life and of the lives of individual service users and health and social care professionals. The Centre has already secured grants worth £105k from Northern Arts and health authorities in the region. Macnaughton’s published work on professional ethics (1999, 1998) complements that of Banks (1998, 1999), Jeffs (1999) and Imam (1999, 2000), and on professional education (Macnaughton, 1999), that of Carpenter (1996) and Barnes (2000).

Spence’s previous publications have been on feminist community work (e.g. 1999) and youth work (e.g. 1998) including a book with Jeffs on the History of Community and Youth Work, published by the Youth Work Press February 2001.

Glover is responsible for establishing the new research Centre for Public Mental Health (see below). Glover has secured additional research from the Department of Health (£50k) and tendered successfully with Barnes to extend their work on mental health mapping to children’s services (£25k). With Carpenter and Schneider he is developing proposals to evaluate mental health crisis and outreach teams.

We have further strengthened capacity for research on children’s services with the recruitment of two research fellows, Potter (co-author of Enabling Communication in Children with Autism pub. Rowntree/Jessica Kingsley, 2001) and Connors (co-author of Children’s Experiences of Disability, Scottish Executive, 2001).

Observations on research output
Research outputs have been selected to show the range of the group’s work across topics, including theoretical work and a variety of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Theoretical perspectives are varied, including applied ethics (where Banks (1998, 1999) and Macnaughton (2000, 1999) have both made major contributions), informal education (in which Jeffs (1999) is a leading theorist), social psychology (Carpenter (1996) and Barnes et al. (2000)), anti-oppressive practice (Hackett (1999, 2000) on child abusers and Imam (1999) on domestic violence) and a variety of perspectives on employment (Schneider, 1998) Some of the work presented develops and tests new theoretical perspectives empirically. For example, empirical work on stress in spouse carers (Schneider et al. 1999) and mental health professionals (Carpenter et al. 2000) and on interprofessional education (Carpenter and Hewstone, 1996 and Barnes et al., 2000b). Glover (1998, 2000) has developed epidemiological tools for the study of mental health needs and service activity.

We value diversity and flexibility in addressing research questions and do not find it sensible to be straightjacketed with one model. The papers referenced demonstrate the use of historical research (Jeffs, 1999) quantitative methods (e.g. Schneider et al, 2000) and qualitative methods (e.g. Spence, 1998 and Barnes et al., 2000) separately, as well as in combination (e.g. Carpenter and Schneider’s (2000) Department of Health study of care management). Barnes’ national survey of SSDs (1998) and study of advocacy in a special hospital (2000) report directly commissioned research for the Department of Health. We particularly draw attention to our use of participatory methodologies involving partnership with service users in the design of research, its implementation (e.g. users as research interviewers), interpretation and dissemination. These are well illustrated in Carpenter and Sbaraini, (1997) and Barnes et al. (2000).

Sources of Funding
Over 50 separate grants have been awarded during the assessment period. We have an exceptionally high success rate in nationally advertised competitions (14 awards from 20 applications) which typically attract a huge number of applications, including from much larger centres. Reflecting the group’s orientation to applied, policy-related research in the field of health and social care, these include six under Department of Health R&D initiatives on mental health, outcomes of social care for adults, costs and outcomes of children in need (£48k to £227k), and two from the NHS Executive (£140k and £100k). Further, in the light of specific expertise and high reputation, we have been given sole tenderer status on important Department of Health and NHS Executive projects evaluating the implementation of mental health policy in England 2000-2. Imam was collaborator with Mullender (previously CASS) and others on a major ESRC project on children and domestic violence. Other funders during the period include the EU (Schneider, two projects), Rowntree (Carpenter, two projects) and Nuffield Foundations (both Carpenter and Macnaughton) and the Wellcome and Leverhulme Trusts (Banks).

We have secured ten local projects through competitive tender (£5k to £200k) and developed an excellent local reputation for high quality evaluative research which has resulted in over twenty-five direct commissions, (£2k to £56) to undertake work for health, social services and community organisations. We particularly value the confidence shown in our work by small user and voluntary and community organisations who frequently approach us to undertake projects which, though usually small in scale, are often vitally important to their continuation and development.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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