Funded PhD Opportunity Using technology to reduce time on administration for social workers

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Social Work and Social Policy



Our partners in social work practice (local health trusts and not-for-profit agencies) struggle to spend adequate time with their service users. Their obligations to record and share information in a multi-disciplinary environment, have led to increasingly cumbersome administrative duties which weigh heavily on social work staff, and interfere with their capacity to build meaningful relationships with clients. The elevation of administrative duties, and the unintentional relegation of service user contact, is seen as a global trend in social work (Rogowski, 2015).

Several commentators (Cortis, Smyth, Wade, Katz, & Work, 2018; Garrett, 2005; Gillingham & Graham, 2016) have suggested that technologies now exist which can significantly reduce social workers’ administrative duties. The evaluation of these technologies is a current priority for our partners in practice.


We asked our partners, in the world of social work practice, to suggest a research topic which had the potential to assist frontline social work staff. A dominant theme from this consultation was that the weight of administration duties puts pressure on client contact times. They described an interest in the evaluation of potential technological adjuncts, or substitutions, to the current administrative practices of front-line social work staff.


Following a comprehensive literature review and stakeholder consultation, the successful candidate would be supported to pilot up to three technology-based administration tools. These might include speech-to-text technologies, voice recording technologies or project/time-management applications. With stakeholder input, one of these technologies would be chosen for a comprehensive evaluation in a randomised controlled trial.

A key outcome of interest would be service user feedback on the quality of relationship they enjoyed with their social worker.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Research proposal of 2000 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
25 to 27 March

Contact Supervisor

Mr Tony McGinn

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #344535 when applying for this PhD opportunity