Center Sponsors Major Conference to "Bridge the Gap"
Intertwining research and practice in social work was the focus of a major conference, "Research and Practice: Bridging the Gap", held on March 8, 1991, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Social Work Practice. Held in the Kellogg Conference Center at Columbia University, the conference was supported by a generous grant from the Virginia and Leonard Marx Foundation, and brought together 135 practitioners and researchers from 12 states and 3 foreign countries. Hosted by Dean Ronald A. Feldman, CUSSW, and Dr. Alan B. Siskind, newly appointed Executive Vice President, JBFCS, the all-day affair offered opportunities for sharing the exciting work being done by both practitioners and researchers, for identifying obstacles to bringing the two sides together, and for beginning a process of bridging the gaps.
The morning session began with a "bold statement" from Professor Juliet Cheetham, Director of the Social Work Research Centre at Stirling University, Scotland, who suggested that evaluation researchers are, in fact, friends of practice at this point in the development of the profession. Professor Cheetham went on to explore existing work in the area and to suggest new directions and challenges for evaluation research in social work. Excerpts of her paper, and those of the other speakers, are found elsewhere in this newsletter. Dr. Gary Rosenberg, Senior Vice President of Mt. Sinai Medical Center, discussed Dr. Cheetham's paper, identifying methodological advances that are proving useful in the social work research being conducted at Mt. Sinai and elsewhere.
Professor Carl Meyer, CUSSW, delivered the second major address of the day, exploring the empirical and conceptual bases for social work assessment. In an increasingly complex practice world, Professor Meyer suggested that domain-building by practitioners or researchers will not serve the profession well, that clearly the gaps must be dealt with, but in creative ways: "What if what is needed is not a bridge at all, but a tunnel under the river or a ferry to cross the river?" She suggested the need to "think globally, but work locally." Professor Marsha Martin, Hunter College School of Social Work, discussed Professor Meyer's paper, and moved discussion into the social policy realm as well, indicating that research and practice by themselves are not adequate to deal with the issues facing the social work community.
After lunch, four workshops offered opportunities for substantial participation from those attending the conference in addressing issues critical to bridging the research-practice gap. (See Workshop summaries) Professor David Austin, University of Texas, was the final speaker. Professor Austin reported on the work of the NIMH Task Force on Social Work Research, of which he is Chair. Reviewing the current state of social work research, his paper discussed directions for future work and its crucial importance to future of the profession as well as for addressing contemporary social problems.
The proceedings of the conference are currently being prepared and will be available in the Fall.