Friday, January 26, 2024

What has research ever done for us?

 By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David S. Prescott, LICSW, ATSA-F, & Kasia Uzieblo, PhD

This week Kieran has been involved in several different conversations about research outcomes, Key Performance Indictors (KPI) and how we measure them. This has been equally engaging and frustrating. This week has really enforced in Kieran the need to emphasis the role, purpose, and use of research, which is often an afterthought or a bolt on for many organisations and programmes. This is a shame, as research should be seen as core business and essential to the development, roll out, and maintenance of any service or endeavour. This blog discusses why research matters and why we should all be concerned about doing it and getting it right.

Good quality research is essential for developing an evidence base that informs practice and policy; we all know that. We look to organisations like ATSA and NOTA through their publications and conferences that facilitate our access to this research and allow us to learn methods, theories, and outcomes. But it must be stated that not all areas of sexual abuse share a research parity or depth. Some areas may be over-researched (e.g., risk assessment, treatment, work with adolescent and adult males) and other areas having less (e.g., prevention of sexual abuse, women who sexually offend, Siblings/intrafamilial). This changes by country and region (e.g., outside of north America sex offender registries are barely researched). To borrow a phrase, “All research is equal, but some research is more equal than others”!

In universities, many researchers are adapting their methods towards being more impactful and being more grounded in practice, professional development, and policy rather than just being about publications. As a result, more research is about being collaborative and about co-creation with professionals, policymakers, and service users/clients. This means that research can also help shape ongoing policy and practice, research needs to be at the start and in the lifecycle of our professional activities, not [as is far too often the case] bolted on at the end or neglected all together. Research needs to be central to good practice and building an evidence base, but it’s also central to commissioning, funding, recruitment and retention of staff, referrals, partnership working, sustainability, and quality assurance. However, the value of research is not always seen as these things with frontline services not always seeing the value reading studies and wanting to focus more, and understandability so, on their clients and practice. In worst case scenarios research can be seen as an add-on or a costly burden, which can mean that it’s not always well developed, well-funded, or at times well executed.

Therefore, it’s important to understand the role and purpose of research and what it brings to practice and policy. One of the best ways to do this is to think about research as a core business for any organisation and/or practice. So, whether you are working in sexual abuse prevention, treatment with men convicted of sexual offences, community risk management or policing; what does research mean to you and your organisation? Maybe the place to start is to think about the role that research has played in your daily practice, in shaping what you do and how you do it. To borrow from and emulate Monty Python…

What has research,
what has research,
what has research ever done for us?

An practice evidence base.
...they, they gave us a practice evidence base...

Yes, they did give us that, that's true
And evidence for future funding Yes, that too
A practice evidence base I'll grant is one
thing the research may have done
And the policies, now they're all new
And the great theories too

Well, apart from the theories and evidence,
And the risk assessment tools
Public health for all the nation

Apart from those, which are a plus,
what has research ever done for us?

Along these lines, it may be helpful to think about how research has improved our professional lives (as well as our personal lives, such as research into health care). Research in our field has informed our understanding of assessment and evaluation measures; how we communicate risk; what goals to work on in treatment; how to work with different individuals; how to understand denial; how to understand human sexuality, etc. In some corners of social media but also in practice and policy, it has become fashionable to disrespect science and scientists. At the end of the day, however, we would do well to stay respectful and keep current with the advances of science; it often advances in multiple directions (as we blogged about last week).

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