ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Virtuous Practitioners: Empowering Social Workers, (2014-2019)

Funding

ARC Discovery grant, $220,130

Researchers/Investigators

Professor  Manohar Pawar, Professor Richard Hugman, (UNSW), Mr. Andrew Alexandra  (CSU) & Associate Professor  A. W. (Bill)  Anscombe. (CSU)

Description

The project aimed to analyse and develop core virtues of social workers to strengthen the social fabric of individuals, families and communities. The increasing demand for sound judgement and appropriate decision making, often in the unpredictable and uncertain contexts, necessitates a focus on virtue-led social workers' action. The interdisciplinary and mixed method analysis demonstrated the largely neglected role of virtues and/or character dispositions in facilitating improved social services and in building stronger communities. The research has both theoretical and practical implications for virtue-led social work practice that will result in communities living healthy, productive and fulfilling lives.

The project explored social workers' virtues and virtues-based social work practice. The three main objectives were:

  • to identify and analyse core virtues of professional social workers;
  • to explore whether and how social workers develop and apply virtues in their practice; and
  • to develop approaches to cultivating core virtues in their (professional) socialisation so as to ensure better outcomes from the profession for its clients and communities.

The research questions were:

  • What are the core virtues which need to be used in social work practice?
  • Do social workers use the virtues in their practice?
  • How do social workers develop and demonstrate their virtues in practice?
  • What roles do virtues and character play in social workers' practice outcomes?
  • Will the conscious development and use of virtues and character result in sound judgements, appropriate decisions and better social work practice outcomes?
  • How should social workers go about improving their virtues and overcoming virtue flaws/deficiencies?
  • Why does the social work profession not draw more on virtue ethics?

By employing a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the research was conducted in three phases. Phase I: Biographic data collection and analysis and a workshop with a view to develop ten biographies of social workers and identify virtues in their practice; Phase II: Data collection from social workers, social work supervisors and social work ethics educators to explore whether and how social workers develop and apply virtues in their practice; and Phase III: Data analysis, report writing publication and dissemination.

Photo taken at ARC Workshop held at CSU Wagga Wagga

Outputs

A first phase of the ARC discovery project culminated into a two day workshop (10-11 December 2014) held at Wagga Wagga campus, bringing together eminent social work and philosophy academics from nine Australian universities. Participants critically discussed virtues in ten biographies of Australian social workers and provided rich data for further analysis and interpretation. The workshop was led by CIs, Prof. Manohar Pawar (CSU), Prof. Richard Hugman (UNSW); Mr. Andrew Alexandra  (Melbourne Uni) and A/Prof. Bill Anscombe (CSU). Ten biographies have been published as an edited book, Empowering Social Workers (see below). The successful completion of the first phase of the project led to the second and third phases of the project which have been completed as planned.

Virtue ethics in Social Work PracticeHugman, R., Pawar, M., Alexandra, A., Anscombe, A.W. (Bill) & Wheeler, A. (2021) Virtue ethics in social work practice. London. Routledge.

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A. W. (2020) A search for virtue ethics: Social work ethics curriculum and educators’ survey. ILWS report 128 Monograph. Charles Sturt University: Wagga Wagga. pdf

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Anscombe, A.W.  & Alexandra, A. (2019) Searching for Virtue Ethics: A survey of social work ethics curriculum and educators. The British Journal of Social Work. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcz106 https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/bjsw/bcz106/5576173

A search for Virtue Ethics MonographPawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A.W. (2018) Virtue-led social work practice. In Pawar, M., Bowles, W. and Bell, K. (2018) Social Work: Innovations and insights (Ed.). Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A.W.B. (Eds) (2017) Empowering Social workers.  Virtuous practitioners. Springer

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A. W. (2017).  Introduction -- the role of virtues in social work practice. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A. W.,  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_1

Fernandes, C. & Hugman, R. (2017).  Voice to the Voiceless—Sue Ash, AO. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A. W.,  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_2

Pawar, M. (2017). But you can push and push and push—Diana Batzias. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W.,  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_3

Andrew, A. & Pawar, M. (2017). Empower people to take control of their own lives—Tom Calma, AO. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W.,  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_4

Anscombe. A. W. & Rush. E. (2017). Respect and Integrity—John Gavaghan. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_5

Rush. E. & Anscombe. A. W. (2017). Respect and Integrity—John Gavaghan. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_6

Pawar, M. & Wendy B. (2017). A people world, rather than a paper world—Bronwyn Hyde. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_7

Pawar, M. & Briskman, L. (2017). I cannot give up, I cannot give up on the children—Bernadette McMenamin, AO. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_8

Pawar, M. & Nipperess, S. (2017). You roll up your sleeves and help people—Robyn Miller. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W.  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_9

Pawar, M. and King, S. (2017).  Hunger for movement and action—Sue Vardon, AO. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_10

Anscombe. A. W. (2017). What You Know Plays Out in Action—Jill Wilson, AO. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W., Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_11

Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. & Anscombe, A. W. (2017). Virtue-led social work practice. In Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, A. W.,  Empowering social workers: Virtuous practitioners (Ed). Singapore: Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-981-10-3809-9_12

Engagement and Impact

The details of the research project have been presented at the following 12 national and international platforms.

  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers: the proposal was presented at the Australian Council of the Heads of Schools of Social Work meeting, 6-7 February 2014, Western Sydney University, to engage with the Council and seek feedback.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. Grant writing experience was presented at the social work and human services research seminar for staff members, seminar room, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 11 March 2014, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. The research design was presented at the Humanities and Social Sciences - Higher Research Degree Seminar, Friday 29th - Saturday 30 August 2014, Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga.
  • Virtuous practitioners: Empowering social workers. Introduction to the project at the ARC workshop, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 10-11, December 2014.
  • What makes a social development worker? A plenary speech delivered at the 19th International Consortium for Social Development international symposium on Transforming Society: Trends and models in community leadership and social development (7-10 July 2015, Singapore). Drawing on their ARC Discovery project, 'Virtuous Practitioners and Empowering Social Workers', initial findings that focused on core virtues/qualities needed for social work and social development practice were presented.
  • Virtue-led social work practice, joint presentation by Pawar, M., Hugman, R., Alexandra, A. and Anscombe, B., Charles Sturt University’s colloquium, ‘Social Work Education and Practice : insights and innovations’, celebrating 25 years of Social Work education delivered by Charles Sturt, held on Wagga Wagga Campus, 2 – 3 November 2016.
  • Use of qualities in social work practice. A special lecture delivered for social work students at the Department of Social Work, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences (Autonomous), Kalamassery, Kochi, India, 13 November 2017.
  • Searching for virtue ethics: A survey of social work ethics curriculum and educators, Based on ARC Discovery project, this paper was presented at the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development 2018 (SWSD 2018), Dublin, Ireland, 4-7 July 2018.
  • Invited to deliver a special guest lecture at University of Mysore, Mysore, India Addressing students and staff members of the psychology and social work departments of the university, Prof. Pawar presented some of the findings of the ARC Discovery project, ‘virtuous practitioners: empowering social workers,  8 January 2018.
  • I am a social worker.  Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 27 August 2018.
  • Personal and professional being. Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 20 August 2018.
  • Insights from social work leaders and practitioners. Drawing from the project findings a special lecture was delivered at the social work residential school, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, 9 April 2019.

Outcomes

The expected outcomes include:

  • systematic and greater understanding of the role of virtues in social work practice, which has been largely neglected in the social work field;
  • identification of core virtues in social work practice;
  • methods of developing and using virtues in practice;
  • Publication in refereed journals and edited books, and presentation of papers in national and international conferences

Contributions to existing field:

This discovery project has provided a new perspective to social work education, practice and research by focusing on the application of virtue ethics in social work and thereby contributed to the interdisciplinary research. Compared to the professions such as medicine and nursing, the social work profession has lagged in purposely researching and integrating virtue ethics in social work. This project has clearly contributed to addressing this gap in social work as a discipline and  profession. The process, outputs and outcome of this research has engaged

interested social work practitioners and scholars, and virtue ethicists in this line of inquiry that will raise awareness of the role of virtues or character/qualities and will strengthen the professional and personal being in an integrated manner so as to deliver quality services for the benefit of people and communities.

Discoveries made:

The project has led to:

  • the conceptual development of virtues in social work practice that integrates values/principles and qualities/attributes, and roles and functions;
  • the documentation of ten biographies of leading social workers and the identification of virtues in their practice;
  • the identification of core virtues in social work practice; and
  • the analysis of social work ethics curriculum and educators suggesting that attention to virtues is largely absent in terms of consciously developing certain qualities and character.

Importance of research conducted:

Social workers and social services play crucial roles in building Australia’s social fabric as well as globally. Although the need for quality social work services is growing in several sectors, including child protection, ageing, mental health, community service organisations and community development areas, people’s willingness regarding helping and volunteering is changing. In a fast ageing society with several social consequences, this research helps to develop helping virtues in people so that they live in a strong sense of community and contribute to creating a good society. By reading and discussing biographies of inspiring social workers and their qualities, helping professions and professionals can be trained and prepared to serve people and society with commitment, passion, courage and integrity. Overall, the development of such qualities help deliver high quality services and serve people better.

New research direction identified:

Future research needs to focus on further conceptual clarity and development of virtues. As the demand for education and awareness is likely to grow in coming years, evidence-based educational and training resources are needed. Research on virtues from philosophical perspectives to practical perspectives is needed.

Innovations, for example use of new, untested methods or theories:

In many respects, the conceptualisation of research project may be considered as innovative as to our knowledge, such a project has not been conceptualised and implemented in the Australian context. The discovery project was innovative in terms of (1) adapting and developing Wengraf’s (2001) Biographic Narrative and Interpretative Research Method; (2) developing and analysing social workers’ biographies from virtue perspectives; and (3) identifying and analysing virtues from practice experiences of social workers.

CONTACT

Prof Manohar Pawar
CSU-Wagga Wagga
email