Phase three: The professional capabilities framework

Research question

What are the professional capabilities, including cultural capabilities, we should expect of newly qualified social workers and of social workers working at beginning, and experienced levels of practice?


This phase of the study had two parts: firstly, a content analysis of five capability and competency frameworks; and secondly, five co-production workshops involving participants from five different sites in Aotearoa New Zealand. Between 20 and 30 participants attended each of the workshops with 132 taking part overall: 29% of participants described themselves as managers, 32% as social work practitioners, 10% as field work educators and 29% gave another role definition.

The competence/capability profile review

The review of existing frameworks considered five separate frameworks or competency profiles: two from Aotearoa New Zealand, one from Canada, one from the England and one from the United States of America. The phase three report presents an analysis of the five documents using eight key themes that recur across all of the professional frameworks or – in the case of the first theme ­– are critical to the unique context of Aotearoa New Zealand. The themes were: social work with Māori; diversity; social justice; professionalism; critical reflection; advocacy and policy practice; ethics; and knowledge, skills and processes.

Although there were striking similarities in the content of the frameworks each was structured differently and expressed at different levels of detail: from the relatively high-level, holistic approach of the American Educational Policy and Accreditation Standard framework to the meticulously detailed sub-competence checklists of the Canadian Entry-Level Competency Profile for the Social Work Profession in Canada. The phase three literature scan (Hay et al., 2018) and the competence/capability profile review shaped the content drafted and reviewed during our five co-production workshops.

The co-production workshops

The workshop programme consisted of a half-day meeting where participants were presented with a summary of the findings from the first two phases of the project before moving into a discussion of the proposed professional capabilities framework. The research team used a structured, participatory process ­– based on the World Café method – to engage participants in discussions about the proposed professional capabilities framework.

When the workshops were complete the Enhance R2P team decided on several broad design principles for the creation of our professional capabilities framework. The first was that, following the approach of the Family Violence and Sexual Violence Capability Framework we would include a set of underpinning values expressed in te reo Māori and with descriptions in English. These values represent the bicultural heart of the framework and should be clear and direct enough to be understood by any student, social worker or service user. The values drafted for our co-production workshops were well received and are included here with minor amendments to the descriptors responding to the suggestion of several workshop groups for the inclusion of the final value of wairuatanga.

  1. Rangatiratanga: Social workers value diversity and cultural identity. We use our practice to advocate for and support the self-determination and empowerment of people.
  2. Manaakitanga: Social workers recognise and support the mana of people. We act towards people with respect, kindness and compassion. We practice empathic solidarity, ensure safe space, acknowledge boundaries and meet obligations.
  3. Whanaungatanga: Social workers work to strengthen reciprocal mana-enhancing relationships, connectedness and to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion.
  4. Aroha: Social workers acknowledge our mutual responsibility for wellbeing. We recognise our common humanity with people who use our services and hold people to account, using professional judgement without being judgemental. We focus on people’s strengths and finding solutions.
  5. Kotahitanga: Social workers work to build a sense of community, solidarity and collective action for social change. We challenge injustice and oppression in all of its forms including: exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.
  6. Mātātoa: Social workers act with moral courage in situations that are uncomfortable, challenging and uncertain. We use critical reflection and questioning to work through contradictions and complexity.
  7. Wairuatanga: Social workers attend to the wellbeing – spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical ­– of self and others. We acknowledge the significance of whakapapa, self-awareness and self-care.

Secondly, influenced by the UK Professional Capabilities Framework we wanted a framework that focussed on different levels in the professional development of a social worker. At this stage we propose only to illustrate this approach by drafting three levels: NQSW or the point of graduation from a recognised programme of study; first year of practice or after one year of supervised practice (preferably as part of an assisted and supported first year of practice); social worker or on attainment of two to three year of supervised practice. We have used feedback from the co-production workshops to draft the NQSW level and projected additional indicators for the first year of practice and social worker levels.

Thirdly, and in common with all of the existing frameworks, the Enhance R2P framework is not intended as a comprehensive list of all of the knowledge, skills and attributes of social workers, but a framework for highlighting core capabilities. The production of long competency checklists can be counterproductive. We decided to identify no more than ten capabilities, to include a capability descriptor and to identify several behavioural indicators for each of three levels. In common with the American EPAS framework our view is that each capability is holistic describing the knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes that comprise the capability, and that the behavioural indicators represent observable components of the capabilities at each of the three levels. The Enhance R2P team, and our workshop participants, welcome the strong practice emphasis of the American EPAS provided by including the four steps in the social work process as capabilities: engagement, assessment, intervention and evaluation.

  1. Te Ao Māori | The Māori world
  2. Kanorau | Diversity
  3. Manatika  | Social Justice
  4. Mātanga | Professionalism
  5. Whaiwhakaaro | Critical Reflection
  6. Kaupapa Here | Policy Practice
  7. Hononga | Engagement
  8. Aromatawai | Assessment
  9. Wawaotanga | Intervention
  10. Arotakenga | Evaluation

Finally, unlike the UK PCF our framework is firmly focussed on the transition from NQSW to professional practitioner status and we see the three levels described as building on each other. As social workers progress through the three levels their capability becomes more integrated and we express this in the framework by using fewer, higher level indicators. Please see the phase three report for the complete professional capabilities framework.