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:


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.

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.

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

Perspectives on Co-Production

Colleagues from our research team gave a wonderful presentation on their experiences of working on a co-produced research project at the Annual Social Work and Social Care Research in Practice Conference on the 6th March at Belfast Castle.

Here’s the abstract for the presentation:

Making decisions about your own life is a key aspect of independence, freedom and human rights. Mental health law has previously allowed compulsory intervention even when a person has the decision making ability to decline intervention. This discriminates against those with mental ill health and intellectual disabilities. The Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) became statutory law in May 2016 and will replace rather than run in parallel to a mental health law. A core principle of the new act is that people are “not to be treated as unable to make a decision…unless all practicable help and support to enable the person to make a decision about the matter have been given without success” (Article 1(4)). There are people who, without support, would be assessed as incapable of making certain decisions but with the appropriate support are capable of making those decisions, and so to not provide that support infringes their rights, undermines their autonomy and reinforces their exclusion from society.

The study was funded by Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) and was a multi-agency partnership between Praxis Care, Mencap NI and Queen’s University of Belfast. The study was designed because there is limited research evidence about people’s experiences of the different approaches which can support decision-making, Four peer researchers were therefore employed for the duration of the project and 41 interviews were conducted with people with mental ill health and intellectual disabilities in order to understand their experiences of supported decision-making, their preferences and ideas for how decision-making should be supported. This presentation will look at the process of co-production and the pros and cons of conducting co-produced studies which involve people with mental ill health and intellectual disabilities. Suggestions for how to overcome the barriers to successful co-produced projects will be given.

Edge, R., McLaughlin, A., Norris, B., Owens, A., Webb, P. (2019) Perspectives on co-production: supported decision making – experiences, approaches and preferences. In Public Health Agency, Health and Social Care Board, Building Research to Evaluate Complex Interventions in Social Work and Social Care: A Consideration of Methodological Issues, 6th Annual Social Work and Social Care in Practice Conference, Belfast Castle, Belfast, UK, 6th March 2019.

Supported Decision Making Report: Recommendations

Support for decision making needs to be individualised.

Our co-produced research report on supported decision making for people with intellectual disabilities and mental ill health made a number of recommendations.

Take a look at page 44 of the report for further information.

Davidson, G. Edge, R., Falls, D., Keenan, F., Kelly, B., McLaughlin, A., Montgomery, L., Mulvenna, C., Norris, B., Owens, A., Shea Irvine, R. and Webb. P. (2018) p. 44

Supported Decision Making Report: Key Findings

  • Our co-produced research report is now available on supported decision making with people with intellectual disabilities and mental ill health.
  • An easy read report is also available.

Key Findings

Decision making is a central aspect of people’s lives. Participants discussed the positive role which decision making can have in their life but also how it felt when they are not supported to make their own decisions.

Participants said there were three 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 making decisions.

In terms of support, people said they would like: practical support including more accessible information; emotional support including someone to talk to; and sometimes the options to choose from.

The peer researcher aspect of the project strengthened the research process and was valued by participants. This is an evolving area of research practice that needs further critical exploration of the issues involved.

Davidson, G. Edge, R., Falls, D., Keenan, F., Kelly, B., McLaughlin, A., Montgomery, L., Mulvenna, C., Norris, B., Owens, A., Shea Irvine, R. and Webb. P. (2018) p. 6

Handling the Media

Illman, J. (2016) Handling the Media: Communications and Presentation Skills for Healthcare Professionals

This book is primarily for healthcare professionals who may not know how to communicate with the media or who may be reluctant to do so. Written by an experienced medical writer, the book shows how the interests of journalists differ from those of healthcare professionals, while emphasising that the relationship between these two groups need not be an antagonistic one.

Because journalists will be interested in stories which are novel, universally appealing and controversial, the author argues that healthcare workers should engage with the media in order to avoid misrepresentation. But to engage successfully, communication skills need to be honed.

John Illman consequently offers concrete advice on how to respond to requests for a media interview and how to prepare for the interview once accepted. Particularly insightful is his discussion of “bridging” techniques, which are used to acknowledge and to respond constructively to difficult questions. This is an important skill to master where the agendas of the interviewer and the interviewee differ.

Useful guidance is also given on how to prepare and deliver presentations and how to use social media to communicate effectively. The advice on writing for the press and on pitching an outline of an article to an editor is similarly good and will appeal to readers who want to make medical journalism their career.

This is an excellent book. There is some theory in relation to journalistic balance, bias and law, but the focus is practical. It is well written and will certainly encourage the reader to believe that they can use the media to communicate with a non‐specialist public.

Review originally published in Reviews Significance , 14:2 45 doi: 10.1111/j.1740-9713.2017.01024.x

Supported Decision Making at KESS

Our four peer researchers gave a wonderful presentation of findings so far for the supported decision making research project at the Knowledge Exchange Seminar (KESS), Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast on the 7th February 2018.

A policy briefing, the slides and a video of their talk is now available!