Legacy of Liz Brown

14 December 2017

Liz BrownWe are sad to share news of the death in November of Liz Brown, co-author of the Research in Practice (RiP) Analysis and Critical Thinking in Assessment (ACTA) publication – affectionately known as ACTA. Our best thoughts are with her family and friends and we wanted to honour Liz’s work with us and its enduring impact.

In 2010 Liz co-led the ACTA Change Project, alongside Danielle Turney from the University of Bristol, Sarah Moore from RiP team and participants from eight Analysis and Critical ThinkingPartner organisations. Danielle remembers meeting Liz on the project:

‘I was delighted to find myself working with someone with such a grounded knowledge of social work practice, a passion for ‘good thinking’ in social work – and a huge sense of fun. Our work together included a great deal of putting the world of social work to rights, sharing Liz’s great joy in her family, and occasionally just having a laugh!

Working with Liz was challenging (in a good way), as she had a knack of asking thought-provoking questions that always required serious reflection. Her approach always came back to the basic issue of how do we respond most effectively, ethically and humanely to the needs of vulnerable children and their families, and this underpinned her commitment to making social work the best it can be. The resources that came out of that project owe a lot to Liz’s empathy and sense of respect for both users of services and social workers themselves.’

The collaboration resulted in a practical, straightforward resource. Building on the project group’s steer, ACTA offers a set of ‘anchor principles’ designed to support social workers to move beyond the collection of information towards its appraisal, synthesis and use in decision-making, whatever the assessment process or ‘model’ their working environment required.

These anchor principles, with which to steady analytical thinking, are one of the huge strengths of ACTA. Another is its emphasis on the role of practice systems – and their leaders and managers in particular – in facilitating or hindering the development of thinking skills in practice.

ACTA has stood the test of time. Liz and Danielle wrote a second edition, published in 2014, as well as a version for Wales, and over the years, the resources have been downloaded thousands of times. ACTA is a core element in all of the RiP Practice Development Programmes, while the workshop that supports the implementation of ACTA is far and away the most requested session on our Tailored Support menu year after year.

Senior RiP Associate, Fareena Shaheed, knows ACTA inside out, having led the workshop on numerous occasions over the years. Fareena noted:  

‘For me, a key strength is the ‘permission’ the anchors give to stop, slow down, and really think about the reasons for our assessments - what we are seeking to achieve and, more importantly, assist service users to achieve. The resource deconstructs our thinking processes, enabling reflection about the complexity of social work practice and the ways in which assessments are formulated and decisions reached. The inclusion of tools aimed not just at frontline practitioners, but those who manage and supervise them, provide a shared understanding and framework to assist assessment practice.’

The work is a wonderful legacy of Liz Brown’s practical and meaningful contribution to intelligent, empathic social work practice. Feedback from a recent ACTA workshop endorses the enduring impact of Liz’s work:

‘I feel more confident in completing analysis in a more competent and meaningful way.’ ACTA workshop participant, October 2017

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