Student Perspective: Why Research, Practice and Policy Matter | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MSW Student Jonathan Rieck
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Student Perspective: Why Research, Practice and Policy Matter

At the Brown School, students refine and enhance their skills in the areas of research, practice and policy in order to fulfill our commitment to impact. The Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health programs offer a multitude of courses and experiences for graduate students to dip their toes into each of these areas, and students can determine how each fits into their professional goals. 

Some might find that research is their strong-suit and their answer to help alleviate disparities and inequities that create the environment for social issues. Others, that implementing research in evidence-based direct practice at the micro- or mezzo-level is their calling. Some  might find that working in a macro-level environment innovating policy and building coalitions can help create impact on social issues. Inevitably, people are pulled toward one of these areas, and it is important to understand the relationship how each of these methods intersect to create systems that aim for beneficence, anti-oppression and social justice.

Without research, there would be no evidence-base to best inform our practice. According to the NASW, social workers are increasingly called to engage in evidence-based practice. Engaging in evidence-based practices ensures the greatest outcomes for clients when social workers are competent in those practices. This shows a direct link between research and practice, but, research can equally inform policy. Without proper data and evaluation, policymakers will not have the important evidence needed to write policies that best serve their communities. In public health, the same concept applies; the importance of research extends into all areas of work, including direct practice, implementation, policy writing and assessing communities for public health solutions. Research is an invaluable tool used to help keep the social work and public health professions informed and up-to-date, ensuring the foundation for competent practice and equitable policymaking.

Practice is just as important. Without implementers of research and policy, there would be no movement or progress in the social work and public health fields. Professionals in practice have the opportunity to pass their skills on to the next generation of workers, as well; these individuals often provide the crucial intervention skills and tools for upcoming professionals, as this is vital to continuing the work of helping others. The people on the ground have the best perspective on the populations they are serving, and this can form a reciprocal relationship between the researcher, policymakers and practitioners. Without their insight, there would be a lack of innovation and perspective on the people that researchers and policymakers are intending to help.

Professionals in policy are the ones who advocate for macro-level changes that impact a great amount of people. While working within a system that is built to be slow and resistant to change, social work and public health policymakers can find innovative solutions to pervasive problems with their systems and transdisciplinary lenses to help forward a social justice and anti-oppression agenda while promoting the health and well-being of all people. Through writing, coalition/relationship building, advocacy, lobbying and testifying, social workers and public health practitioners can use their skills to create impactful change.

While each of these fields is important, it is important to recognize the relationships that research, practice and policy have with each other. Without all three of these areas working together to provide holistic and comprehensive evaluations and solutions for the issues that persist in society. Even if you might feel that one might not be the best fit for you, I suggest you give them each a go, as they are all avenues to invest your passion and be on the front lines of social change.