Qualitative and Quantitative Research in Social Care Policy And Practice

Research is generally a form of systematic inquest that leads to acquiring knowledge about a problem or a new phenomenon. Research can be conducted in various ways  e.g.

by academic discipline, method of data collection or case studies. There are various types of research some of them can be categorised as evaluative research, action research, case study research, experimental research, community profiling, social research, systematic reviews, quantitative research, qualitative research and scientific research etc. In social work and social care research, the relationship between research, practice and theory development (new knowledge) is a more dynamic one with each dimension usefully informing the others. Social care research has been influenced by professional and disciplinary developments. The nature and purpose of social work research is now focusing on its distinctive contribution to the scope of social scientific research (Center for Human Service Technology 2006).

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This paper will deliberate on social care research from qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Moreover, this paper will also scrutinize how both types of research is used in social care, for example in making policies, in evaluating projects or in direct practice.Research MethodsQualitative research is one of the two major approaches to research methodology in social science.

Qualitative research involves investigating participants’ opinions, behaviors and experiences from the informants’ points of view. On the other hand, quantitative research is the systematic scientific investigation of quantitative properties and phenomena and their relationships. Quantitative research is widely used in both the natural and social sciences, including physics, biology, psychology, sociology, geology, education, and journalism. The objective of quantitative research is to develop and employ mathematical models, theories and hypotheses pertaining to natural phenomena.

Qualitative research can be differentiated from quantitative research in that it does not rely on quantitative measurement and mathematical models, but instead uses logical deductions to decipher gathered data dealing with the human element. Its downside, compared to quantitative research, is that it is more expensive, has smaller sample sizes and is hard to measure.Quantitative research methods are widely used in social care and facts finding about certain social issues. But qualitative research is found more appropriate and useful for policy evaluation. The understanding for the contribution of qualitative research  to policy formulation, evaluation, and of what they bring to policy analysis, both alone and in association with quantitative methods. Nonetheless, there are no categorically agreed standards regarding what constitutes quality in  qualitative policy evaluation methods. In qualitative research there has been a growing emphasis on ways of  formalising quality standards, and a large number of sets of guidelines (Spencer Liz 2004 p.10) Social Care Research For Making Positive Changes For Service UserRecently, service user involvement in health and social care research is considered as a right, not a privilege, and as an activity that has positive outcomes for both the individuals and the research activity concerned.

Training is therefore considered a key principle of service user involvement, because that people who are ‘novice’ researchers may need to gain some specific skills and knowledge in order to work effectively. Training for service user involvement in research is not so easily available. There are relatively small number of initiatives that actively provided training and most of these had been recently established. Most of initiatives existed within a collaborative working environment. Universities are the most common training provider.Service users can identify two key questions that they may ask of training.

They may ask about the purpose and selection of particular persons. Training is most valued when it had a clear purpose, when it is centered around specific research tasks and real research problems, and above all when it is linked to a defined and real research project or role. Of key importance, in highly rated initiatives, service users’ contributions/roles in the training and research clearly and explicitly drew upon their experiences as service users. These contributions ranged across a large part of the research process, but in all cases there was a clear purpose to the contribution.

Such training and information for service user can improve the quality of service by using qualitative and quantitative research techniques.Social Care Research & Policy MakingQualitative research is inquisitive in nature and various  procedures are used such as in-depth interviews and focus group interviews to gain insights. Qualitative work is continuously in a dynamic flux, but moving toward some end-point in an evolutionary way. Qualitative efforts make use of that part of the person concerned with true spirit and  significance of things. It is not just an exercise in truth or falsehood. But these investigations are attempts at interfacing with concerned aspect of the real issue. They are, therefore, interpretations and not truths in the positivistic sense (Jones K.

2004).While looking for information, researchers instinct may turn to books. However, many primary research books are typically of more use in providing a setting, in giving the theoretical background to research, or presenting a review of the literature. If the area of study deals with current issues, then it is important to gain current and up-to-date knowledge. It is quite possible that while doing research review, researcher may not get the required material in books but it is easy to get current information in journals than books.

While  searching journals it should be remembered that they vary greatly in purpose and depth. It is therefore quite important to take some well-known titles in social work, community care, brief reports on topics of current concern ( Macwilliam Stuart 2003 p.9). A qualitative research study can involves following elements (Spencer 2004):·          A review of literature on qualitative research methods, including a review of the ways in which different methods and approaches are used in evaluations. This will also involve reviewing existing quality standards frameworks.·         In depth interviews with a range of qualitative research practitioners, academics andresearchers who have written about qualitative research from a theoretical perspective, commissioners and funders of qualitative research, and policy-makers who have used qualitative research evidence in the development and evaluation of policies.·         The development of a proposed set of standards or a quality framework, which incorporates as fully as possible the various perspectives generated by the first two stages.

·          Holding of workshops with the groups involved in the in-depth interviews, reviews, critiques and refining the framework.·          The application of the framework to a small number of research reports to assess its utility, followed by further refinement of the framework.In qualitative research there is a strong rationale for using an evidence-based approach. Social care research can provide us with evidence upon which to base decisions taken at all levels of social care management or policy  perspectives. Such research and information can be used for policy making and decision making in following ways (Macwilliam 2003 p.9):·         The qualitative research can inform decision-makers by providing required knowledge about the relevant issue.·         It can strengthen and support practitioners decision making by giving confidence to their arguments about services required.·         It supplies material for use in service reviews and joint reviews.

·         Qualitative research can support the review processes that requires the service providers to prove that the services they are delivering are evidence-based and can achieve required results.·         Qualitative Research results can provide information to service users and carers of what the research says about the interventions, services or treatments they are receiving. It empowers service users and carers by getting them directly involved in the research process and using the findings to inform service development.·         The research results can help  managers and commissioners decide which services, approaches and interventions to support.·         The research results can provide staff with background information on conditions and illnesses that their clients may be experiencing.·         The research results can provide staff with new and innovative practice ideas. What is EvaluationIt is not enough to just conduct qualitative and quantitative research and forward some recommendations and information for policy makers and mangers. But the most important phase of any research is the evaluation and appraisal process.

A framework for appraising the quality of qualitative research or quantitative research is very important. The framework can be developed with particular reference to evaluations concerned with the development and implementation of social policy, programmes and practice. It should be  devised as part of a programme of research conducted on behalf of policy makers. The evaluation of the research should involve the following:·         A review of quantitative or literature on qualitative research methodology.

·         A review of present frameworks for assessing quality in the research work.·         Investigative interviews with a variety of people who have an interest in quality assessment of research and/or policy-related evaluations.·         Drawing the inferences and viable suggestions.Brief Example of Use of Research for Policy Making and EvaluationThe government in UK has taken various policy initiatives on the issues related to health and social care.

Department of Health, has set out the priorities for the government’s ten-year National Service Framework (NSF). The new policy framework includes enhancing the role which the mental health nurses can play in improving dignity in care for people of all ages. The policy makers understand that  there are still deep-rooted negative attitudes and behaviours towards older people which impact on their experience of and quality of care. The government is currently reviewing its policies for achieving sustainable improvement in the experiences of older people using public services. The Commission for Social Care Inspection report published on 6 February 2006 concludes that care homes are not providing adequate medication. The correct medication provided to older people can make a huge difference to their quality of life (Department of Health 2006).ConclusionIn the social sciences, qualitative research is a broad term that describes research that focuses on how individuals and groups view and understand the world and construct meaning out of their experiences.

Qualitative research methods are sometimes used together with quantitative research methods to gain deeper understanding of the causes of social phenomena, or to help generate questions for further research. Unlike quantitative methods, qualitative research methods place little importance on developing statistically valid samples, or on searching for statistical support for hypotheses.