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Willma & Albert Musher Program at Columbia University School of Social Work

Evidence Based Practice & Policy
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Introduction

The Best Project pilot study was designed to test and refine a strategy for implementing evidence-based practice (EBP) in several social work agencies. The first and second phases of the project consisted of a literature review on evidence-based practice in social work, the dissemination of research in practice, and open-ended interviews with eight expert intervention researchers regarding the barriers, themes, and trends in the use of EBP. In the third phase, data generated from initial focus groups with agency personnel on their perceptions of EBP were compared with data gathered from intervention researchers. The final phase was an actual dissemination and implementation project conducted with teams from three large social service agencies. This project provides a unique opportunity to identify and learn from a working framework designed to connect EBP and social work through partnership and collaboration between clinicians and researchers.

 

Funding

The study is supported by funds from the Columbia University Musher Program in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health/Columbia University School of Social Work Predoctoral Training Program in Mental Health Services Research (#5 T32 MH14623-24/25).

 

The BEST project has a social intervention research methodology, which provides for a process of intervention design, piloting, and redesign based on feedback. Because of the value of comparison across sites we have set out to build that comparison by including three quite different social work agencies. Following the social intervention research approach, four sequential phases were carried out and are described below.

 

Please note: Summaries of the study phases below are currently being updated. Please check this page regularly for additional information, including forthcoming presentations and publications.

 

 

 

Phase 1 and 2:

Current State of Evidence Based Practice in Social Work and Analysis of Expert Interviews

 

Methods

Review of the literature was conducted and synthesized on dissemination of EBP and social work models for dissemination of EBP. Relevant literature was identified through a search of local social work and public health library holdings and by searching electronically several multidisciplinary databases. Additional citations were collected via reference lists.

 

Based on the themes identified in the literature review, qualitative interviews were conducted with experts in the field of EBP. The goal of the interviews was to survey expert researchers in order to explore current strategies, struggles, and observations about EBP to supplement and speak to the themes described in the literature.

 

Findings

Both the literature reviewed and respondents offered similar observations and themes regarding EBP. The greatest agreement between the difference researchers was found in the description of gaps and barriers to implementing and disseminating EBP. Problems included poor funding, a lack of training and support for agency staff and practitioners, a lack of consumer involvement, a failure to translate research into practice, and a lack of EBP education, particularly at the master's level. Interviewees also described efforts to identify the most viable options to address barriers to implementing and disseminating EBP.

 

Bellamy, J., Bledsoe, S.E., & Traube, D. (2006). The current state of evidence based practice in social work: A review of the literature and qualitative analysis of expert interviews. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 3, 23-48.

 

Mullen, E., Bellamy, J.L., & Bledsoe, S.E. (2005). Implementing evidence based practice in social work: a pilot study. In P. Sommerfeld (Ed.), Evidence-based social work – towards a new professionalism? (pp. 149-174). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.

 

Mullen, E. J., Shlonsky, A., Bledsoe, S. E., & Bellamy, J. L. (2005). From concept to implementation: Challenges facing evidence based social work. Evidence and Policy: A Journal of Debate, Research, and Practice, 1(1).

 

 

 

Phase 3:

Comparison of Initial Focus Groups with Agency Staff on Implementing EBP with Data Gathered from Expert Interviews

 

Methods

Built on the findings of phases one and two, the third phase of this agency-university pilot project was initiated to further explore the issues related to EBP as played out in the effort to partner with, motivate, and train agency personnel in the theory and processes of EBP, provide technical assistance as agencies begin to use EBP, and troubleshoot any barriers that may arise in the process. In this phase, three of New York City’s most innovative social work agencies were engaged in a pilot study in partnership with Columbia University. Interviews, focus groups, and the collaborative experience toward the use of EBP with agencies provided valuable data as to how to address key criticisms of EBP dissemination and implementation.

 

Findings

The literature review from phase one suggests that there is a disconnection between researchers and practitioners around EBP in social work. In order to begin to address this gap, data gathered from literature and interviews with researchers conducted in phases one and two of this project will be compared with data gathered from focus groups and interviews with agency based practitioners and administrators. Results including agency and practitioners’ perceptions about current use of research and EBP in practice, the utility of EBP in their work, what motivates them to use EBP, and the tools they need to implement EBP.

 

Bellamy, J., Bledose, S.E., Fang, L., Manuel, J., Coppolino, C., Crumpley, J., Jean-François, J., & Mullen E. J. (2006, January). Implementing evidence based practice: from research to the front line. Poster presented at the Society for Social Work Research Annual Meeting, San Antonio, TX.

 

Click here for the Poster in PDF

 

 

 

Phase 4:

Implementing Evidence Based Practice in Social Service Agencies Through an University-Agency Partnership

 

Methods

This phase of the project used a pretest/posttest design to acquire pilot data on a program developed to facilitate the dissemination and implementation of an EBP model in social work agencies. EBP teams were formed in a convenience sample of 16 agency staff. Questionnaires and focus groups were completed with participating staff from each agency before and after introduction of the training program. Training topics related to EBP included problem formulation, literature search, research assessment, and application of research findings. Study staff also provided technical assistance to agencies throughout the training process. Data from questionnaires and focus groups were analyzed using SPSS and NVIVO, respectively.

 

Findings

Preliminary results indicate that, across all three social service agencies, participants’ knowledge and perceived utility of EBP generally improved, while the perceived types of barriers to implementing EBP remained largely the same. Findings indicate that all three agencies planned to sustain use of elements of EBP in practice and attempt to implement the systematic use of EBP models of practice. However, notable differences existed across the three agencies in terms of how to implement and sustain EBP in their agency cultures after the completion of the project. Almost all participating staff emphasized the importance of technical assistance, agency buy in, and other multi-level factors to help bridge research and practice. Overall, agency staff reported having a positive experience and provided useful feedback on what was helpful and less helpful about the information and skills they learned from the training.

 

Bledsoe, S. E., & Bellamy, J. L. (October, 2007). Implementing evidence-based practice: An overview of the Best Training with practitioner responses. Paper presented at the Council on Social Work Education 53rd Annual Program Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

 

Bellamy, J. L., Bledsoe, S. E., Mullen, E. J., Fang, L. & Manuel, J. (In Press). Learning from agency-university partnership for evidence-based practice in social work: Participant voices from the BEST project, Journal of Social Work Education.

 

Manuel, J. I., Mullen, E. J. (Presenter), Fang, L., Bellamy, J. L., & Bledsoe, S. E. (October, 2007). Preparing Social Work Practitioners to use Evidence-based Practice: A Comparison of Experiences from an implementation Project. Paper to be presented at the Stockholm conference on implementation and translational research October 14-16: Stockholm, Sweden.

 

 

 

 

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