Social services Apply for Research Governance approval

Guidelines for researching social care for adults

All research should have clear objectives linked to clearly defined positive benefits to customers, staff or in the generation of new knowledge.

Researchers should always review the current information available in the area where they wish to conduct their research to ensure that their work does not duplicate the effort of others.

All research should be done with the informed consent of those taking part in the research and systems should be in place to ensure that the data collected in the research is protected.

Any risks that may arise from research whether to the researchers or to participants should be minimised and vulnerable people should be protected from harm.

It is useful to have participant involvement in the design of any research at an early stage to ensure that any questions to be used are appropriate to the group being researched.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) has developed a classification of the main types of views or knowledge captured in social care research, and how to obtain it: 

  • Organisational - gained from the managers and governance arrangements 
  • Practitioner-based - gained form people actively involved in social care practice 
  • Policy-based - gained form the wider policy environment (usually document based) 
  • Research-based - gathered from previous research (often called meta-data or meta-analysis). This may be qualitative or quantitative research. 
  • User and care-based - gained from the experience of and reflection on service use

Anecdote and statistics

Anecdotal evidence is the stories people tell from experience. It can give clues about what there is to be discovered but it can be seriously misleading unless further investigated with rigorous statistical research. We all - professionals and public alike - have a tendency to be unduly influenced by striking examples. Changes in policy and practice should not be based on such impressions. Here is a passage about the role of statistics in the development of modern medicine:

Doctors have to learn to override their natural tendency to be swayed by personal narrative and anecdote, and it is not an easy lesson. It is a vitally important one, though, as the history of medicine has shown, over and over again, that anecdotes are worthless without a proper statistical analysis. Many hundreds of ideas about the origins of disease and claims for sure-fire remedies have been accepted by doctors on the basis of anecdotal evidence, only to be shown, by eventual statistical analysis, to be completely false. Take bloodletting for example. The technique was first introduced in Egypt around 1000 BC, and then spread to Europe via Greece. For almost three thousand years it was the mainstay of medical practice in the West. Every doctor could testify to its efficacy from his own experience, and tell dozens of anecdotes about how a certain patient got better after being bled. No attempt was made to evaluate bloodletting by statistical methods until the nineteenth century when the French physician Pierre Louis and others found that it was useless at best, and at worst positively harmful. Only then did doctors finally abandon rite ancient technique that had been handed down to them by generations of physicians, all of whom had been convinced it was therapeutic.

From Placebo, Dylan Evans, (Harper Collins) 2003

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is the systematic scientific investigation of quantitative properties and phenomena and their relationships. When conducted properly this should produce neutral, unbiased and objective results.

If data is to be compared to national data or data from other sources it is important that the data gained from your sample represent a statistically significant proportion of the whole population.

Be realistic about the size of sample possible on your budget and within your time scale. A badly worked out, large sample may not produce as much useful data as a well-worked out, small sample.

When selecting a sample it is important to consider any effects that your sampling methods may have on the findings of the research and to minimise these where possible.

When producing research to develop an evidence-base for social care practice through an intervention study, it is important, where possible, to have a control group against which findings can be measured

Qualitative Research

The objective of qualitative research is to gather people's opinions or knowledge. This is a highly valued method in Manchester City Council, where active collaboration with service users and carers is encouraged. However, the results will be unlikely to come from enough people to be able to make quantitative conclusions. Qualitative Research could include focus groups, interviews, life history and other methods of data collection.

  • Focus Groups

Focus groups are a common method for eliciting opinions and knowledge. They usually consist of eight to 10 participants selected because of particular characteristics or demographics. A moderator or facilitator usually leads the group. The facilitator should guide the discussion drawing out opinions without making judgments. It is advisable to have a small number of clearly defined objectives so that the facilitator can focus the discussion around these areas. It is useful to have someone to transcribe the findings of the group in addition to the facilitator.

  • Interviews

Interviews seek to gather information about an individual's attitudes and opinions and are useful in gaining information and insights which could not be gathered through quantitative methods. Usually interviews are semi-structured with the researcher collating a set of questions prior to the interview taking place but allowing participants to raise issues, which fall outside the areas specifically covered.

If you research involves participants who may be subject to the provisions of the Metal Capacity Act you may find the below guidance useful when completing your application. Included below are a helpful guide produced by the SSRG and detailed Department of Health Guidance on nominating a consultee for research involving adults who lack capacity to consent.

ODI "Fulfilling Potential" Research Toolkit

The Office for Disability Issues has produced a toolkit to assist people to get the most from research in this area.

It aims to provide guidance to help organisations find and use data with confidence to support their work by, for example, the better targeting of services and/or resources to meet the needs of disabled people.

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