Reproducibility & Replication

Here’s the abstract of a presentation I gave to the 10th European Conference for Social Work Research (ECSWR) on the 6th May 2021:

Abstract

Quantitative research, reproducibility and replication: a guide for social work researchers

Professional journals share important knowledge (Gambrill, 2019). However, inappropriate use of quantitative methods can lead to claims which may not be warranted by the evidence.   Where such methods are used inappropriately, the contribution of social work research to practice, policy and social development may be compromised with unintended consequences for the specific research project and the broader social work research community. This paper therefore seeks to sensitise researchers to the challenges of conducting quantitative social work research whilst arguing that these challenges are not insurmountable. Advice is also given on how to do research which is reproducible and replicable by describing the process from reception of the data to delivery of the report using methods derived from computational research (Gandrud, 2015). The paper therefore provides practical advice on the content, evaluation and reporting of statistics based on the guidelines of the American Psychological Association. The paper also showcases ways of working with quantitative data which are methodologically innovative.   This approach will appeal both to those who have a broad overview of quantitative methods as well as to those who are new to this research tradition. The paper concludes with the recommendation that further research training for the social work community in quantitative methods is needed in order to ensure that findings are robust and ipso facto more likely to be impactful. Working within the post-positivist tradition, the author argues that quantitative and qualitative traditions can be mutually reinforcing.

Webb, P. (2021) Quantitative research, reproducibility and replication: a guide for social work researchers. In 10th European Conference for Social Work Research (ECSWR), University of Bucharest, Virtual Conference, 6th May 2021.

Well being intervention

Here’s the abstract for a presentation which our team gave at the 8th annual social work and social care conference on the 10th March 2021!

Abstract

“Poor mental ill health is the biggest cause of long-term absence at work” (CIPD, 2020 p. 2) with three fifths of respondents in a recent survey reporting that there had been an increase in common mental health conditions (ibid, p 2). Sickness-absence, presenteeism, leaveism and work-related stress due to mental ill health may however be managed by staff who engage with their employer’s well being initiatives. This study assesses the efficacy of one initiative using an online assessment tool.

The study evaluated a training module, designed by the Mental Health Foundation and Unum (Mental Health Foundation, UNUM, Managing Mental Health in the Workplace, Module 7, n. d.) which aims to increase the well being of staff in the workplace by providing support when problems emerge. The training module was selected by three members of the research team who work in services. The module had not been evaluated before. The study addressed the following question:  did completing the work place module have an impact on staff mental health and well being? The study was a pilot with a subset of Praxis Care staff (n = 50). 

The research used an untreated control group quasi-experimental design with pre and post-tests with attention being paid to threats to validity (Cook and Campbell, 1979 pp. 103 – 112). Two groups of staff were selected. One group received training (the treatment) and one group not (the control). A pre and post-test questionnaire was administered to the treatment and control groups. The questionnaire included the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS, NHS Scotland, University of Warwick, University of Edinburgh, 2006). WEMWBS was selected to study the efficacy of the module because it is a valid and reliable measure of subjective well being and psychological functioning (Stewart-Brown et al 2008 pp. 4 – 8).   All participants were Praxis Care staff. The study received ethical approval from the Research Ethics Committee, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University of Belfast.

Analysis included exploratory data analysis, calculation of mean well being scores for both groups and the use of a range of parametric and non-parametric tests including analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to detect treatment efficacy. Due regard was paid to p values and effect sizes (Ellis, 2010).  

Both the treatment and the control groups reported lower mean well being scores at post-test than pre-test with the mean well being score for the intervention group declining at a faster rate. The module therefore did not have an impact on staff well being.  All mean well being scores – irrespective of group or time point – were close to the mean well being scores in larger studies.

Social care providers are now increasingly developing health and well being strategies. Such strategies need to be assessed.  This study used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate the efficacy of an untested well being intervention. Although this particular intervention was ineffective, the study has implications for how to conduct research studies in online settings and for how to deliver well being programmes.

Bunting, G., McIlvenny, L., Webb, P. (2021) Managing mental health & well being in the workplace: assessment of a well being intervention. In Public Health Agency, Health and Social Care Board, Building a Research Community ‘Ongoing learning: human, digital and organisational’, 8th Annual Social Work and Social Care in Practice Conference, Virtual, 10th March 2021.

Well being & Learning New Things

Teaching yourself something new can have substantial benefits for your well being. Here’s a podcast which I and a colleague gave on this subject.

The podcast forms part of a series from Redbridge Talking Therapies.

Each of these podcasts…. will guide you in strategies for coping with worry, low mood, isolation, loneliness, relaxation and mindfulness.

People with SMIs and Exercise

Our paper on an exercise intervention for people with serious mental illness has been published in Health Expectations Open Access: An International Journal of Public Participation in Health Care and Health Policy.

Abstract

People with severe mental illness (SMI) often have poorer physical health than the general population. A co-produced physical activity intervention to improve physical activity for people with SMI in Northern Ireland was evaluated by co-researchers (researchers with lived experience of SMI) and academic researchers using a new approach to participatory data analysis called Participatory Theme Elicitation (PTE). Co-researchers and academic researchers analysed the data from the pilot study using PTE. This paper aims to compare these analyses to validate the findings of the study and explore the validity of the PTE method in the context of the evaluation of a physical activity intervention for individuals with SMI. There was alignment and congruence of some themes across groups. Important differences in the analyses across groups included the use of language, with the co-researchers employing less academic and clinical language, and structure of themes generated, with the academic researchers including sub themes under some umbrella themes. The comparison of analyses supports the validity of the PTE approach, which is a meaningful way of involving people with lived experience in research. PTE addresses the power imbalances that are often present in the analysis process and was found to be acceptable by co-researchers and academic researchers alike.

Yap, J., McCartan, C.,  Davidson, G., White, C., Bradley, L., Webb, P., Badham, J., Breslin, G. & Best, P. (2020) An exercise intervention for people with serious mental illness: findings from a qualitative data analysis using participatory theme elicitation, Health Expectations, 00: 1 – 15. https://doi.org/10.1111/hex.13141

Physical Activity for Bipolar Disorder

A further Cochrane Systematic Review – Qualitative Protocol– is available on the factors that influence participation in physical activity for people with bipolar disorder.

Abstract

Main objective: To identify the factors that create barriers or facilitate physical activity for people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder from the perspectives of service users, carers, service providers and practitioners to help inform the design and implementation of interventions that promote physical activity.

The overall aim of this review is to identify, appraise, and synthesise qualitative research evidence on the barriers and facilitators to engaging in physical activity in general lifestyle settings or as part of an intervention designed to increase physical activity for people with bipolar disorder. This will allow us to identify factors that create barriers and facilitators of physical activity in this population to inform the development, design, and implementation of future interventions. We will communicate our findings to public health commissioners and other stakeholders.

McCartan  CJ, Yap  J, Firth  J, Stubbs  B, Tully  MA, Best  P, Webb  P, White  C, Gilbody  S, Churchill  R, Breedvelt  JJF, Davidson  G. (2020) Factors that influence participation in physical activity for people with bipolar disorder: a synthesis of qualitative evidence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 3. Art. No.: CD013557. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013557.

Components of Supported Decision Making

Our paper on the key components of supporting and assessing decision making ability was published today in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Abstract

People’s ability to make decisions may be impaired for a wide range of reasons, including by mental health problems and learning disabilities. Individual autonomy, the ability to make decisions about our own lives, is a fundamental tenet of democratic societies. This has been reinforced by laws governing substitute and supported decision making and most significantly by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 12 of the UNCRPD requires everyone to have equal recognition before the law and, to achieve this, the necessary support and safeguards must be available. There has been considerable debate about the important theoretical and philosophical issues involved and growing research about the practice complexities of supporting and assessing decision making ability or mental capacity. This article aims to present some of the key components of the support and assessment process to inform further service development and training in this area. The key components were identified as part of a qualitative, participatory research project which explored the decision making experiences of people with mental health problems and/or learning disabilities. The conventional approach to the assessment of capacity is to consider four main components, whether the person is able to: understand, retain, use and weigh, and communicate the information needed to make the decision at that time. The findings from this research study suggest that people generally don’t usually talk about their experiences of decision making in terms of these four components and approaches to supporting people to make decisions don’t necessarily break the support down to explicitly address the assessment process. However, considering support for all aspects of the functional test may be helpful to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible. The challenges involved in providing effective support and assessing decision making ability are discussed and the article concludes with some of the implications for training, service development and practice.

Webb, P., Davidson, G., Edge, R., Falls, D., Keenan, F., Kelly, B., McLaughlin, A., Montgomery, L., Mulvenna, C., Norris, B., Owens, A. & Shea-Irvine, R. (2020) Key components of supporting and assessing decision making ability, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 72, C, 101613. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2020.101613

 

 

Transcribing for Social Research

Hepburn, A., Bolden, G.B. (2017) Transcribing for Social Research

This book is a practical guide to transcription, together with an explanation of the social science which underpins it. Although one might assume that transcription involves making a verbatim account of words spoken during an interview or focus group, the authors argue that standard orthography is unable to represent the ‘words, gestures and conduct of the people being studied’. Drawing on insights from conversation analysis which show how social phenomena are ‘realised through talk in interaction’, as well as discursive psychology and ethnomethodology, Hepburn and Bolden show the reader, in ten succinct and well written chapters, how to capture words and interactions and record them accurately on paper using a transcription system originally developed by Gail Jefferson.

What impresses about this book is that the authors convincingly argue that standard orthography imposes written conventions on spoken language when written and spoken modes of communication are not identical. The authors therefore demonstrate how
important it is to capture data on timing, overlap, intonation, emphasis and volume if the richness of talk is to be accurately represented as well as providing guidance on the transcription of non-speech sounds and visible conduct. The book is liberally sprinkled with useful information on transcription theory and practice, and is accompanied by a companion website with data and exercises which allow the reader to consolidate their
transcription skills. Given the highly technical nature of the material, the book is easy to follow, although it is best to begin at the beginning and read it in its entirety. Transcription conventions are, for example, introduced gradually with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. Some prior background knowledge of linguistic terminology might be useful although such knowledge is by no means essential for the determined reader. Admittedly, using such a fine-grained transcription system could be both time-consuming and expensive to implement. The onus may therefore be on the researcher to be aware of these techniques and to gauge whether they can be used in
their projects.

Transcribing for Social Research is an invaluable contribution to the methodological literature which will appeal to researchers across a range of disciplines who wish to successfully capture speech in all its complexity.

Review originally published in Research Matters, December 2019.

Physical Activity for Anxiety & Depression

An interesting, and useful, Cochrane Systematic Review – Qualitative Protocol – is now available on the factors that influence participation in physical activity for anxiety and depression:

Abstract

Main objective: To identify the factors that create barriers or facilitate physical activity for people with a diagnosis of anxiety or depression from the perspectives of service users, carers, service providers and practitioners to help inform the design and implementation of interventions that promote physical activity.

The overall aim of this review is to identify, appraise, and synthesise qualitative research evidence on the barriers and facilitators to engaging in physical activity in general lifestyle settings or as part of an intervention designed to increase physical activity for people with anxiety and depression. This will allow us to identify factors that create barriers and facilitators of physical activity in this population to inform the development, design, and implementation of future interventions. We will also integrate the findings from the QES with the two associated effectiveness reviews (Cooney 2014; Larun 2006). We will communicate our findings to public health commissioners and other stakeholders.

McCartan, C., Yap, J., Firth, J., Stubbs, B., Tully, M., Best, P.,  Webb,  P., White,  C., Gilbody,  S., Churchill,  R., Breedvelt  J.J.F., Davidson, G. (2020). Factors that influence participation in physical activity for anxiety and depression: a synthesis of qualitative evidence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 3. Art. No.: CD013547. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013547.

Paper on Supported Decision-Making

Great to see that our first paper on supported decision-making has been published in Health and Social Care in the Community!

Abstract

This article presents the findings from a qualitative, participatory research project which explored how people with intellectual disabilities and/or mental health problems have, or have not been, supported to make their own decisions. The aim of the research is to help inform how supported decision‐making, as required by Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, can be effectively operationalised. The project provides an overview of experiences of support as well as identifying which supports are valued. It was conducted between July 2017 and July 2018 and was a partnership between disabled people, service providers and a University. It involved peer researchers interviewing 41 people with mental health problems and/or intellectual disabilities, in community settings, about their experiences and views of support. The key findings include that decision‐making is a central aspect of people’s lives. Participants discussed the positive role which decision‐making can have but also how it felt when they were not supported to make their own decisions. Participants said that there were three main things that make decision‐making harder: the type of decision; the role of other people; and what the outcome might be. Time was consistently identified as a very important factor. In terms of support, people said that they would like: practical support including more accessible information; emotional support including someone to talk to; and sometimes the options to choose from. There was very little mention of existing, more formal processes of support such as advance decisions or care planning. The peer researcher aspect of the project was valued by participants. The main implications of the research are for how support for decision‐making should be provided including the need for an individualised approach as the support needed varies across decisions, time and people.

Webb, P., Davidson, G., Edge, R., Falls, D., Keenan, F., Kelly, B., McLaughlin, A., Montgomery, L., Mulvenna, C., Norris, B., Owens, B., Shea Irvine, R. (2020) Service users’ experiences and views of support for decision making. Health Soc Care Community.  00:1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12961

Empowerment through Physical Activity

People with severe mental health problems have a shorter life expectancy and a higher risk of developing some medical conditions. An empowering programme that increases levels of physical activity may play a role in reducing this mortality gap (Mental Health Foundation blog post).

Interested in reading about a research programme which encourages people with serious and enduring mental ill health to be more physically active?

If you are, download our new report here