SWTIG: Tracy Wharton on Engaging Social Workers: Linking Evaluation to Evidence-Based Practice

I’m Tracy Wharton, Assistant Professor at the College of Health and Public Affairs at the University of Central Florida. Having been a practitioner, a program coordinator, a program evaluator, and now a faculty member, I am working on bringing relevant connections between practice and evaluation into the classroom.

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is the process of asking a good practice-relevant question, searching for the best available evidence, determining how the available information applies to your client(s), and evaluating the results of the intervention you and your client selected. As social work continues to expand implementation of EBP across practice domains, the imperative for rigorous evaluation of what we do and how we do it becomes even more important. Two broad things are necessary for EBP to succeed: practitioners need to embrace and implement the practice of using evidence and embrace and implement the practice of applying the EBP process.

Lesson Learned: Help engage people in understanding “the big picture.” Imagine your State Senator asking you to explain why your program should be given expanded funding over a program in the next county over; what would you say? In today’s political climate, funding for our programs often depends on our ability to demonstrate value. While it is appealing to leave evaluation to “the experts” and focus on our corner of the practice field and the work that we do from day to day, program directors often find themselves faced with demands for outcomes data, return on investment, and cost-benefit of the ways in which we serve our various populations. Like it or not, policy and public awareness often drive funding allocations and research priorities, which in turn help drive public perception of “what is important.” Even as we strive to support and empower our clients, our paychecks depend on the survival of our programs! In order to do what we do, we need funding, and to get funding, we need data.

Lesson Learned: “Evidence” can mean many things, as long as it is collected with an eye on validity and rigor.

Hot Tip: Remember “What? So what? Now what?” When teaching program evaluation to students in professional programs, use real clinical examples or applied experiences from internships. For example, working through a logic model for a familiar practice setting can help bring the process to life and create a link to evidence-based practice. The key to getting professional students excited about evaluation is to make it RELEVANT.

Rad Resource: The Point K Learning Center has a Logic Model Builder workbook, along with dozens of other evaluation resources.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SWTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “SWTIG: Tracy Wharton on Engaging Social Workers: Linking Evaluation to Evidence-Based Practice”

  1. Good morning,

    Your post interested me so I take the liberty to ask a question

    A couple of years ago we conducted a review of social work practice ( in child protection services) to get information about best practices and standards.

    Practiically, the material we surveyed was pretty general large principles and almost no hard standards.

    I know social work is also an art, not just work, but I would like to know if you have any source that could address this topic ?

    Many thanks for your answer

    Have a nice day

    Gilles Mireault, M.Ps., M.A.P.

    Quebec Youth center
    Québec city,, Quebec, Canada

    1. Hi Gilles,
      I apologize that I never saw your comment and responded! Are you going to be at the AEA conference? I would love to speak with you about this. The short answer is yes- there are best practices and guidelines for practice in social work, but it is a broad field, so I’d need to know more detail about what you are looking for to point you in the right direction.
      My direct email is tracy.wharton@ucf.edu.
      I hope to speak with you in Chicago.
      Tracy Wharton

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