The three project phases

The enhanceR2P project is funded for three years and aims to address three research questions:

  • What is the content of the current New Zealand social work curriculum and how does it relate to the core competencies of the Social Workers’ Registration Board (SWRB)?
  • How well prepared are NQSWs (social workers in their first year of practice) to enter professional social work, and how is their learning being supported and enhanced in the workplace?
  • What are the professional capabilities, including cultural capabilities, we should expect of NQSWs and of social workers working at more experienced, advanced and expert levels of practice?

Each project year will have a different but related focus or phase: phase one will map the social work curriculum in Aoteroa New Zealand investigating the topics taught in all participating institutions; phase two will investigate the readiness to practise of NQSWs in their first year of post-qualifying practice; and phase three will involve a a highly participatory process for the co-production of a Professional Capabilities Framework clarifying the capabilities of NQSWs and social workers at experienced, advanced and expert levels of practice.

Phase 1

Map the curriculum

The first phase of the project will take place in 2016 and has a primary focus on mapping the social work curriculum in order to answer questions about what is taught, and when and where it is taught. This phase will begin with a scan of literature relevant to the process of curriculum mapping in professional education, and the utility of this approach to address curriculum development issues in social work education. The detailed research questions to be addressed during this phase are:

  • What learning outcomes are included in the New Zealand social work curriculum?
  • What topics relate to these learning outcomes?
  • When and in which courses are these topics taught?
  • How do the topics taught relate to the core competencies of the SWRB?
  • How do the programmes of the participating institutions compare with one another in terms of learning outcomes, topics taught and relationship to the core competencies?

Two methods of data collection will be used during the first phase of the study: documentary analysis of curriculum documents of all participating TEIs; and focus group interviews with teachers and students at a sample of eight of the participating TEIs.  Analysis of curriculum documents will be used to create a hierarchical taxonomy called Topics for Indexing Social Work Education in Aotearoa New Zealand (TISWEANZ). It is anticipated that the TISWEANZ will include Te Reo Māori terms and terms from Pacific languages reflecting the inclusion of tangata whenua and Pasifika topics taught in the curricula of the participating institutions.  This methodology is modelled on an approach adopted by Canadian medical educators to map the medical curriculum in Canadian medical schools (Willet, Marshall, Broudo & Clarke, 2007, 2008). TISWEANZ will be loaded into a relational database and used to index the relationship between learning outcomes, content topics (including Te Reo Māori and Pasifika topics) and the SWRB core competencies in the curricula of all participating institutions. The researchers will run reports on the database to answer the research questions.

Phase 2

Evaluate readiness to practise

The second phase of the project will take place during 2017 and will consider the readiness to practise of NQSWs one year after qualification. Phase two will use both survey and interview methods to inquire into readiness to practise as perceived by NQSWs, managers, and service users. This phase will address the research question: how well prepared are NQSWs to enter professional social work practice and how is their learning being supported and enhanced in the workplace? Both the survey and interview schedule will include questions on the perceived cultural capabilities of NQSWs.

Phase two will commence with a scan of the current literature on practice readiness to explore relevant findings and examine methodologies employed in similar studies, and to assist us to determine the scope of phase two (see, for example, Manthorpe et al, 2014). From this scan of extant research the first part of phase two will be developed in which a survey of NQSWs (those practitioners in their first 12 months of practice) and managers will be conducted.

In the second part of phase two a series of semi-structured interviews will be conducted, recruiting NQSWs and their line manager/ supervisor. These pairs of participants will be recruited via invitations sent by social work professional bodies and social networks. The interviews will explore the themes of readiness and support of NQSWs guided by an interview schedule developed from the literature and from analysis of the survey data.

Ideally, in order to gain service user feedback, the project team would have liked to access the views of service users who have had direct contact with the NQSWs involved in the interview sample. However, on reflection, facilitating recruitment of service users from different organisations is likely to be challenging. All parties will be concerned to safeguard the rights and protection of service user information and it is possible that the team may not be able to have direct contact with current service users. The team have therefore developed an alternative plan for accessing service user views. This strategy would entail making contact with mental health consumer groups and caregiver organisation – such as the Carers New Zealand and the Alzheimer’s Association groups – with the view to advertising an invitation to meet with people who have had recent contact with an NQSW to join a focus group discussion. While this strategy will involve an ‘arms length’ approach to accessing service user feedback about NQSW practice, it is still likely to yield valuable data for the project.

Phase 3

Co-produce a professional capabilities framework

During 2018, the final phase of the project, learning from the first two phases will be used to engage educators, employers, regulators and service users in a series of structured, participatory workshops. The workshops will be designed to involve participants in the co-production of a professional capabilities framework for social workers at beginning, experienced and advanced levels of practice.

This phase will begin with a scan of literature on professional capabilities in social work education, including comparisons and contrasts with social work competences. The detailed research questions that this phase will address are:

  • What are the capabilities – including cultural capabilities – that ought to characterise graduates from social work degree programmes at beginning, experienced and advanced levels of practice?
  • Are different capabilities required for specialist social work roles?
  • How could social work education programmes and employers use a professional capabilities framework to improve the continuous learning of social workers across the career journey?

Following completion of the literature scan the team will identify a sample of existing social work competence and capability frameworks and conduct a content analysis to identify the key elements. The content analysis will pay particular attention to high level domains and the common elements in competence and capability frameworks. It will describe how competencies or capabilities at different levels of experience are articulated, and whether the focus is on generic and/or specialist competencies and capabilities. The content analysis will include New Zealand documents describing social work competencies and capabilities (e.g. SWRB core competencies and ANZASW practice standards).

The content analysis will allow the research team to generate a series of exemplar statements and domains that can be used in the next step. There will be two ways in which stakeholder input will be sought for the co-production of a professional capabilities framework. Firstly, the team will develop an online card sorting exercise and invite all registered social workers in New Zealand to participate. Participants will sort capability statements into domains, and identify capabilities that are appropriate at different levels of practice experience. Secondly, the team will hold a series of five participatory workshops at different sites across Aotearoa New Zealand. Each workshop will involve up to fifty participants comprising key social work stakeholders (employers, educators, and service users). The research team will adopt a modified World Café style approach (Fouché & Light, 2011) to the workshops to maximise participant engagement . At the workshops research team members will:

  • present findings from each phase of the research (including the online card sort);
  • engage participants in discussion of the benefits and risks of a professional capabilities framework;
  • engage participants in discussion of how a framework might be used by social work educators and employers to improve the continuous learning of social workers across their career journey;
  • engage participants in discussion about the ethnic and cultural considerations that NQSWs require for them to practice social work with indigenous and increasingly diverse populations;
  • engage participants in workshop style activities to input directly into the shape and structure of a professional capabilities framework.

Feedback from the workshops will inform the research team in designing a draft professional capabilities framework with accompanying advice on its use. Consultation on the draft professional capabilities framework will form the sole item on the agenda of the final meeting of each of the project reference groups at the end of phase three. A final draft professional capabilities framework will be agreed with the project advisory group and launched at a national event where key stakeholders who are considering adopting the framework will be invited to speak on their plans.


Fouche, C., & Light, G. (2011). An Invitation to Dialogue: “The World Cafe” In Social Work Research. Qualitative Social Work, 10(1), 28–48. doi:10.1177/1473325010376016

Manthorpe, J., Moriarty, J., Stevens, M., Hussein, S., & Sharpe, E. (2014). The ‘making’ of social workers: Findings from interviews with managers of newly qualified social workers. Practice, 1-15. doi:10.1080/09503153.2013.867941

Willett, T. G., Marshall, K. C., Broudo, M., & Clarke, M. (2007). TIME as a generic index for outcome-based medical education. Medical Teacher, 29(7), 655–659. doi:10.1080/01421590701615808

Willett, T. G., Marshall, K. C., Broudo, M., & Clarke, M. (2008). It’s about TIME: A general-purpose taxonomy of subjects in medical education. Medical Education, 42(4), 432–438. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03012

Image credit
flickr | Joel Cooper