Embedding evidence-informed practice in Devon County Council

02 September 2019

Devon County CouncilVerity Sutcliffe

Being a Research in Practice Link Officer takes you out of your day job, gives you a view of the bigger picture and what is going on nationally.

The role became part of my job following the departure of a colleague, but I was motivated to take on the position as staff development is at the forefront of my work.

I believe evidence-informed practice is effective as it follows social work values.  Being evidence-informed means not only looking at what the research says, but considering what individuals need, and how as a practitioner with your wisdom, you can adapt your approach to fit their requirements. 

Learning and development

At Devon County Council we have found that the resources from Research in Practice are very accessible, which is hugely beneficial when supporting staff development. The materials are well-respected and we find colleagues are keen and enthusiastic. You don’t have to wait for an event to gain the information to support your practice, everything is up-to-date with current trends, which our staff find really valuable.

Being topic led is a great advantage as it brings learning together. Staff at different levels of the organisation can access publications, Webinars or listen to Podcasts all on the same theme. It’s very beneficial as it co-ordinates thinking and developments across the service on the same topic. The offer speaks to the whole service not just frontline. 

Building relationships and embedding resources

At Devon we have developed good links with those at a senior level and they have supported us to target resources and events at the right people. When I first started we didn’t have that connection at a strategic level and as a result you often had the same people attending events which meant the learning was not being shared across the organisation.

To address this, we now meet when the Delivery Programme is first published to decide how we are going to target resources and events at different people. We then set up further meetings throughout the year so we can re-visit and plan in a timely way, being proactive rather than reactive. I think this method has definitely helped, we have had people attend nearly every event this year and I think this has helped increase the profile in Devon County Council. 

I also have a very good relationship with my Account Manager. We have regular calls which answer any queries we may have and the guidance supports my role. I think the main benefit is having that sole point of contact. I’ve never felt like I’m asking a wrong question and it doesn’t feel like you’re disturbing people which is really important. It’s a supportive and energising group of people.

Improving engagement

I think one of the main challenges remains engagement as not everyone works the same way. If you consider the workload of frontline managers and practitioners you can understand why they do not have time to read through all of the research. Rather than send everything across, I will often target news at people I know will be interested and will share the learning available.

One thing I would suggest is to introduce Research in Practice in meetings you have with newly qualified social workers, as this gets them engaged from the start.

If I was a new Link Officer I would say the best place to start is to read your usage statistics, which show who is regularly accessing and using the resources. The people who already engage are your allies, so identifying and working with them is the most effective way of increasing engagement. Getting them to explain to colleagues how to create an account and login to the website, request places at events, and just generally accessing resources is really beneficial.

I would also recommend attending the regional and national events such as the Link Officers’ Annual Meeting as this is a really good way of sharing ideas with others. It also makes you realise that everyone has similar questions and queries within their organisations, and it creates a nice camaraderie across the Research in Practice network.

Overall, I think you have to just keep going by making people aware of what is available, this is the only way I have found of effectively spreading the learning through your organisation.

About the author

Verity Sutcliffe is Workforce Development Advisor at Devon County Council, she took on the role of Link Officer in 2014.

Related Research in Practice events

Link Officers' Annual Meeting

28-29 November, Birmingham: view details

Join us for our Link Officers’ Annual Meeting (LOAM). This popular annual event is a unique opportunity for Partners across the national network to share best practice, discuss emerging sector issues and to learn from one another. This year’s LOAM will focus on Leading and embedding learning. We will reflect on how practice is being shaped and developed by young people and families, by innovation and by collaboration, as well as exploring the role that we all play in leading and facilitating positive change in our organisations.

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