Systematic and just: The use of a systematic review methodology in social work research


  • Emma Kelly University of Salford



This discussion paper is based on my experiences with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) on a 12 day placement as part of the Research Development Initiative 4 (RDI4) program. Claims and counter claims are made about the appropriateness of a systematic review methodology in social work. These debates pivot around understandings of knowledge creation, function and ownership in social work and what constitutes evidence. This paper considers the contribution systematic review methodology can make to social work research. The SCIE systematic review is considered within the context of broader review types such as literature and narrative reviews. The review methodology developed by SCIE is promoted because of its explicit inclusion of service user and carer evidence. Systematic review methodology also offers social work researchers the opportunity to scrutinise their searching technique and process. A detailed examination of some obstacles in searching highlights the potential for error and bias. Frequently these are introduced unintentionally through a less than rigorous search of literature. It is hoped that an awareness of the pitfalls of literature searching will lead to greater transparency about claims made based on ‘available knowledge’. Social work has a specific contribution to make to the systematic review methodology as we pioneer ways of including service users and carer experience and knowledge. Systematic reviews are an appropriate methodology for social work and present an opportunity for the profession to raise the profile of alternative but reliable sources of evidence.


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How to Cite

Kelly, E. (2015). Systematic and just: The use of a systematic review methodology in social work research. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 15(3), 72-85.