The Conference Concept

In March 1991 the Center for the Study of Social Work Practice sponsored its first invitational conference, Research and Practice: Bridging the Gap. The Center's founding Director, Dr. Shirley Jenkins, described the conference as looking "at gaps between practice and research, valid concerns of each, and the ways in which methodologies can be intertwined to find answers to address contemporary problems. "An emerging theme in 1991 was that the profession should give priority to identifying mechanisms which promote practitioner-researcher partnerships in generating knowledge.

Building on the 1991 conference, the Center's second conference was conceptually framed by two objectives: 1) a careful examination of the character of practice knowledge, with practice broadly defined to include clinical practice, administration and p olicy development; and 2) an exploration of knowledge-building approaches that strengthen the partnership between practitioners and researchers. These objectives determined the conference substance and invitations. Over half of the participants were agenc y-based practitioners, in contrast to the prior conference whose attendees were primarily academic researchers.

A rich, creative diversity of practitioner-researcher partnerships emerged as presenters examined varying viewpoints on the relationship between practice and research. Participants described situations in which 1) researchers consult with practitioners studying their own practice; 2) practitioners consult with researchers who are studying practice; 3) expert practitioners and researchers function as coinvestigators; and 4) the practitioner and researcher are one and the same. Discussions emphasized the importance of preparing social work practitioners and researchers to assume a range of roles in partnerships.

The conference challenged participants to develop a repertoire of approaches and methodologies that can be differentially enacted, revise and replicated. The Conference goal was to enhance practice knowledge by increasing understanding of how to genera te knowledge form, in and for social work practice.