As part of the Masters in Social Work (MSW), in their second year, social work students must undertake a piece of research. Three students on the MSW programme carried out a large piece of research broken into three parts for a local community group, Douglas Matters.
Douglas Matters wanted to explore the needs of adolescents in the Douglas Area (a large suburb of Cork city)
Douglas Matters anorganisation in which members of the community – young people, adults and those who live and work in the Douglas area – all provided their views and information about life, challenges and issues facing young people living in and around Douglas.
Community-based learning/research activity
The three Masters of Social Work students examined this question by:
- Carrying out qualitative interviews with adult stakeholders in the area.
- Analysing surveys completed by transition year students from three post-primary schools in the area.
- Carrying out ethnographic research, using photo-voice and qualitative research, with seven teenagers in the area about the spaces and places they felt included and excluded in Douglas.
Douglas Matters identified a liaison person for the project. The team met her regularly to tie down the methodology and to discuss progress.
The team was invited to meet and present on progress to the full Douglas Matters group. The students finalised their projects for mid-April 2018. The students presented it at the MSW Research Conference on the 8th and 9th of May 2018, with Douglas Matters present.
Student learning outcomes
The students learned a lot from this engaged research experience, including:
- Communication skills – these students are social workers and require excellent communication skills to do their jobs effectively. This project meant they developed skills in communicating with multiple audiences and being sensitive to different needs and perspectives. At varying stages, the students communicated the results with multiple audiences and learned different and democratic means by which to disseminate the work.
- High level cognitive skills – working with young people and ensuring their true voice came through in the research findings is a further skill acquired by these student researchers. The students had to build trust with these young adolescents and be in tune with their needs. They had to navigate through complexities such as the potential for the research results to be markedly different than what the community partner expected. These factors gave students a real-life situated experience of the many complexities that can arise when working with different groups.
- Analytical skills – the students developed strong qualitative research skills and learned how good design and methodology can yield strong results to inform practice. The students had to assess their research results against existing anecdotal evidence and determine whether the results supported or contradicted that evidence and discuss why. This required strong objectivity but also a contextual knowledge of the subject area gained through primary research.
- Leadership skills – the students undertaking this engaged research were nervous at first and perceived that they were taking on extra risk in doing a collaborative project. Overall, they saw the reward in doing a project with a participatory design and took the chance. The students were rewarded in multiple ways for this: they had a challenging, worth-while project to work on the results of which would genuinely assist a community-based organisation; they could take ownership of the direction of the research and strongly direct its development; their peers were able to witness this transformation in their classmates; the researchers felt they played a strong leadership role for the young people participating in the collaboration and were able to shed light on the college experience for these young people.
Douglas Matters had anecdotal evidence that the Douglas area had insufficient resources and amenities in place. They believed this was negatively affecting the lives of young people in the area and having a direct impact on the number of young people presenting to professional support services/ agencies for help. They wanted empirical research to be undertaken to determine if this was the case.
The results of the project will help the organisation to apply for funding, substantiate a correlation between increased demand for professional services and youth dissatisfaction with community resources/ amenities, underline the need for youth centres and safe places for young people to socialise, and inform the decisions and resource allocations of local community organisations and public services in this area.
Further Details & Assessment:
All three students presented their work to Douglas Matters at various intervals. Additionally, representatives from Douglas Matters attended the end of year research presentations and participated in a wider discussion about the research. All MSW students witnessed the collaborative roles played by both the community group and the UCC student and supervisor. The collaboration between the students, their supervisor and the community group is ongoing.
Applied Social Studies
20 ECTS for the Masters dissertation
Dr Fiachra O’Suilleabhain