12.1 What to share and why we share

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the six questions researchers should be able to answer to ensure that their ethical obligations have been met
  • Describe how social work roles might shape how a person shares research findings


When preparing to share your work with others you must decide what to share, with whom to share it, and in what format(s) to share it. In this section, we’ll consider the former two aspects of sharing your work. In the section that follows, we’ll consider the various formats through which social workers might share their work.


Sharing it all: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Because conducting social work research is a scholarly pursuit and because social work researchers generally aim to reach a true understanding of social processes, it is crucial that we share all aspects of our research—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Doing so helps ensure that others will understand, use, and effectively critique our work. We considered this aspect of the research process in Chapter 3, but it is worth reviewing here. We learned about the importance of sharing all aspects of our work for ethical reasons and for the purpose of replication. In preparing to share your work with others, and in order to meet your ethical obligations as a social work researcher, challenge yourself to answer the following questions:

  • Why did I conduct this research?
  • How did I conduct this research?
  • For whom did I conduct this research?
  • What conclusions can I reasonably draw from this research?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?
  • How could this research be improved?

Understanding why you conducted your research will help you be honest—with yourself and your readers—about your own personal interest, investments, or biases with respect to the work.  Being able to clearly communicate how you conducted your research is also important. This means being honest about your data collection methods, sample and sampling strategy, and data analysis.

The third question in the list is designed to help you articulate who the major stakeholders are in your research. Of course, the researcher is a stakeholder. Additional stakeholders might include funders, research participants, or others who share something in common with your research subjects (e.g., members of some community where you conducted research or members of the same social group, such as parents or athletes, upon whom you conducted your research). Professors for whom you conducted research as part of a class project might be stakeholders, as might employers for whom you conducted research. Understanding the answer to this question will allow you target formal and informal venues to share your research, which we will review in the next section.

The fourth question should help you think about the major strengths of your work. Finally, the last two questions are designed to make you think about potential weaknesses in your work and how future research might build from or improve upon your work. Presenting your research honestly requires admitting the limitations of your study but arguing why the results are important anyway. All scientific studies contain limitations and are open to questioning.

Social work roles

Sharing social work research is important to social workers across a variety of roles.  Dubois and Krogsrud Miley (2005) describe generalist social work roles across three practice areas. The first practice area is resource management, and generalist social workers should understand that “resources are power” (p. 236). Organizations and individuals with money, knowledge, talent, staff, office space, technology, and other resources hold power in the social space and our ability to martial those resources on behalf of our clients can determine their treatment outcomes. The second practice area is education, and the authors emphasize that “knowledge is power,” as well. Social work involves learning from and educating our clients, as well as sharing our knowledge where it is needed in the social service system. The final practice area is consultancy, recognizing that social workers bring expertise and resources and collaborate with clients to create solutions to problems. Let’s think about how social workers on the micro, meso, and macro level might act within these roles to bring about change based on empirical research findings.


For social worker researchers engaged in macro social work, the activist role demands advocacy on behalf of target populations to individuals who control resources. Dissemination of social research findings can support this role by lobbying policy-makers directly through phone calls or letter campaigns which include research results. Another option would be to partner with service agencies who can use research results in grant applications for additional funding for their services. Sharing research–in the form of a journal article, conference presentation, editorial article, interview on local media, among countless others—contributes to what we know about the social problem addressed in the study as a society. The researcher may also engage in the role of a planner, using her research to help create new programs to address a problem in the community.

Meso-level social work roles are also compatible with disseminating social work research. As a convener or mediator, social workers can bring together community leaders and organizations to address problems as a team. Sharing their research, social work researchers highlight how the problems of individuals, communities, and society are intertwined. Perhaps the research could be a catalyst to creating a task force in the community.  Or it could convince a variety of stakeholders such as anti-poverty organizations, anti-racist organizations, as well as police, to come together to address a problem jointly. It may also be used to propose trainings and outreach in the community.

Micro-level social workers can share the results of a study with their clients, which may make them feel less alone and contextualize their struggle within their home community. They can use research findings to advocate within the current system for their client’s right to services, for exceptions to policies that block them from accessing necessary resources, and for the effective delivery of services. Research may also cue them to address the effects of racism and poverty in their clients’ lives, providing a more comprehensive approach to intervention. Micro-level social workers also engage in educational practice and prevention roles, which can be informed and enhanced by research as well.

Social work research is research for action on behalf of target populations. Sharing results with the world is a necessary part of that mission.


Key Takeaways

  • As they prepare to share their research, researchers must keep in mind their ethical obligations to their peers, their research participants, and the public.
  • Social work roles across the ecosystem will shape how one’s results are shared and for what purpose.


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Foundations of Social Work Research Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca L. Mauldin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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