Funded PhD Opportunity An information technology adjunct to case administration in frontline social work: a randomised controlled trial on outcomes for clients

This opportunity is now closed.

This project is funded by: European Commission - Horizon 2020

Subjects: Social Work and Social Policy and Social Work and Social Policy


This study will deploy an experimental method to evaluate the efficacy of an IT based solution in reducing administrative demands on social workers. Initial discussions, with an industry-based advisory group, suggest that social workers’ recording responsibilities and multi-disciplinary interactions are ripe for streamlining. The underlying premise of the project is that voice-to-text and voice-recording applications, together with a sound clip filing system can be deployed in frontline social work to reduce the time spent on administration.

This project proposal is therefore grounded in industry-based stakeholder consultation, and will help address a real-world problem. This project also has the potential, through the facilitation of better quality relationship-based social work practice, to impact the well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities: social work service users. The project comes, therefore, with a strong research ethics mandate as potentially impactful on the efficacy social work practice, where ever social work is practiced.

The project supervisory team has been chosen for its experience in designing and delivering scientific evaluations of complex interventions, in social work practice (Dr McGinn and Prof Taylor). This expertise is complemented by Dr Synnott’s expertise in leveraging advances in information technology for better patient outcomes in the health care sector. Dr McGinn has recently completed a systematic review of attempts to evaluate one of social work’s flagship practice vehicles: family group conferencing (McGinn et al., In Press). The learning gleaned from this exercise has been significant. The challenges to the rigorous measurement of social work intervention outcomes are significant. However, there has also been considerable advancement in our understanding of how study bias and potentially confounding variables in experimental evaluation, can be reduced (Campbell et al., 2007; Chandler, Churchill, Higgins, Lasserson, & Tovey, 2013; Higgins, Lasserson, Chandler, Tovey, & Churchill, 2017).

The current project will avoid common shortfalls in the rigour of social work practice evaluation, by adhering to this guidance using mechanisms of rigours such as:

*Comprehensive baseline assessment of group characteristics

*Treatment integrity analysis (monitoring of the deployment and use of the technological adjunct to practice)

*The use of measures of intervention impact on social work service users (as opposed to measures of administrative efficiency, such as case processing times)

*Blinding of social work service users to intervention deployment, and blinding of data collectors.

Overview of proposed method Intervention: the provision of a bespoke technological application to reduce the administrative burden on frontline social work staff Study participants (n=120) will comprise of social work service users; divided, on a random basis between an experimental group and a control group. Data: measures of social work service user well-being; and social work service users’ ratings of the quality of the relationship they experience with their social worker. Data analysis: findings will be processed to compute an overall effect size, confidence interval and probability value.

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)
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

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.

  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain


This project is funded by: European Commission - Horizon 2020

    DTA - Social Policy

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.

Watch Video

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Friday 12 April 2019
Interview Date
13th June - 4th July

Contact Supervisor

Mr Tony McGinn

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #395627 when applying for this PhD opportunity