Why research matters to adult social care

18 March 2022

By Gina Walton – Senior Project Manager, Kent County Council

In the 14 years that I have worked in social care I have seen a shift in the focus of research, although we are still on our journey to embed a research culture. I have worked with a number of social care practitioners with an interest in research that actively engage with research activities and others that hear the word and think academic studies and switch off from the topic. Our aim through capacity building in Adult Social Care research is to show that research can come in many shapes and sizes. It can be used to evaluate a service, increase knowledge for decision makers and create a awareness for staff.

Not only does research provide an opportunity for people working in social care including the care sector to use evidence and research to inform complex judgements and decisions needed to support, empower and protect people, it also improves staff experience and professional development, helping with recruitment and retention of social workers.

National Focus

Robust research evidence is a vital component of good planning and decision making in social work. It sits alongside other knowledge to provide, for example, evidence of what works best in given circumstances. Good research evidence can drive reflective practice, continuous quality improvement and innovation” [1]

Research has been a long-standing priority for the Chief Social worker for Adults (England), Lyn Romeo, who commissioned a project to establish the research priorities for adult social work using the long-established James Lind Alliance (JLA) approach. Practitioners, people using services and their carers responded to two surveys and a priority setting workshop to establish the final Top Ten research priorities. Although a diverse range of issues and themes for adult social work were identified, many of the priorities asked about the impact of policies on social work practice, and importantly, the outcomes for people using services.

This was the first time that the JLA approach had been used in a non-health related area. Since then, a similar James Lind priority setting exercise has been commissioned by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists [2]. Given their significant input into adult social care, strategies aiming to inform, guide and direct the development of research capability and capacity in the occupational therapy profession in the UK are welcomed by health and adult social care alike. 

What are we doing in Kent

In addition to the building research capacity, in Kent we have created a research group to help embed a research culture. The group aims to:

  • Have oversight of all Adult Social Care research activity.
  • Review all external research requests, to ensure that they are strategically aligned and consider operational implications.
  • Track all research projects and ensure we consider the learning and apply into practice.
  • Shape research communications to keep the workforce informed and engaged.
  • Work with partners to share learning and seek research opportunities.
  • Consider career research opportunities for the workforce and how these opportunities are promoted and supported.
  • Understand what research activity is happening in Adult Social Care, celebrate and share the work of our workforce.
  • Work with local universities to inform student research projects.
  • Design and deliver research events.
  • Created a network research network with partners in the county (health, children’s social care, health) to collaborate and identify joint opportunities. 

We are very excited about the opportunities building research capacity in adult social care will create as research matters in so many ways.

The author

Gina Walton is a Senior Project Manager in the Innovation Delivery Team, Adult Social Care and Health at Kent County Council. She co-leads the Kent Research Partnership with Ann-Marie Towers.


  1. Department of Health and Social Care. Priorities for Adult Social Work Research Results from the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership for Adult Social Work. London UK, 2018.
  2. Royal College of Occupational Therapists, James Lind Alliance. Identifying Research Priorities for Occupational Therapy in the UK. What Matters Most to the People Accessing and Delivering Services? London UK, 2021.


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