‘Communicating social work’: Ideas for practitioners

“I have always been captured by the notion that social work is the “art of the possible” and as social workers our task is to create opportunity and hope in the midst of uncertainty. This is really a challenge to creativity and soul. I have also realised in recent years that one way of making opportunities is to give voice to client stories through writing and introducing wider audiences to the experiences and issues we grapple with as we walk alongside our clients” (Vaughan- in Maidment & Milner, 2008, pp.1-2).

Sometimes a colleague might say to you “you should write that up”, sometimes it might be said by an assessor at your competency panel. A few years ago I attended a stunning case presentation by a social worker from a mental health service. It was an amazing piece of work, and as I listened to the presentation, in a building next door to where my social work career started, I felt really proud of our profession, the resilience and hopefulness we bring to our work and what that can mean to the people we work with. I hoped that practitioner and her colleagues would write up the piece of work, so her tenacity, perseverance and commitment would honour the service-user’s story but also the story of good practice. Why present or write?

• It can be simply pragmatic- to meet your personal professional development goals
• To reflect , analyse practice and/or the impact of policy
• To share development with a wider audience
• Receive feedback and incorporate into practice
• Contribute to local and international literature
• Add to our own unique practice

A good place to start may be to present a short session for colleagues or a wider team. If you feel you lack the confidence to do it alone, then find a colleague and develop the presentation together. Collaboration can be fun, creative, and, who knows, this might lead to a partnership that could continue through your professional life. Working together stimulates questions and new ideas, deepens analysis of problems, and helps you decide how to best present your ideas. There are some great resources here: Fouché,C.,Lunt, N., & Yates, D. (2007). Growing Research in Practice: A collection of resources. Auckland: Massey University. Read here link to PDF
Some key considerations when starting to think about dissemination:

• Who are you presenting to?
• Is it an audience of social work peers? In this case jargon will be fine.
• Why is your work relevant to them?
• What are the key ideas or findings you wish to communicate?
• How can you cover what you want to but stay within the time limit?

Whether you are presenting a formal research report, writing a peer-reviewed article, preparing is much easier when you can clearly picture the audience and find your voice. The target audience shapes not only what you will choose to include, but how you will present it.

Maidment, J. & Milner, V. (2008). Conversations about Writing: The Journey from Practitioner to Writer. Families in Society ,88 (4), 1-6.

First published Social Work Notice Board, July, pp.12-13, 2009

About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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