2. Introduction

The methodological framework for reflexive professionals in participative health and social care has been developed as part of the INORP project, Innovation by supporting reflexivity and participation: Strengthening education and professionalization of social work on the border of other professions, co-financed by EU funds under the Erasmus+ K203-CAC1B7D2 strategic partnership for innovation for the period 2020-2023. The project partners include:

  • Charles University (Czech Republic) as Project Coordinator;
  • Ghent University (Belgium);
  • Helsingin Yliopisto (Finland);
  • University College Dublin (Ireland); 
  • Cooperativa De Ensino Superior De Serviço Social (Portugal).

The Association of Educators in Social Work (ASVSP) is an associate partner.

The INORP project aims to develop methodologies to strengthen the competences of actors involved in health and social care practice development, research, and education, including academics, teachers, students, stakeholders from various group identities, in relation to using participatory and inclusive approaches to engage with services users and to promote reflexivity in various areas of social work.

The content and structure of the methodological framework builds on:

  • Intellectual Output 1 (O1) of the INORP project, A framework for analyzing and reflecting on modes of service user participation in social work: A comparative perspective. This review of the literature revealed the types of participatory approaches used in the partner countries in the fields of health and social care. The document showed considerable cross-national variations in the level of research and publications. The review also illustrated the conceptual complexity of notions of participation: publications draw on different concepts (including user involvement, user participation, participatory social work, participatory decision-making, experts by experience…) which may carry varying meanings and take different forms. The review furthermore points to the impact of national contexts, historical traditions in terms of organizing the welfare system, policy frameworks, and organizational and educational cultures on the ways in which ‘participation’ is operationalized in practice development, research and education in the fields of health and social care. Throughout the literature review, we identified various challenges and ethical complexities related to promoting participatory approaches in health and social care -including tokenistic approaches, resistance towards participation and the challenge of engaging with power imbalances- which may, or may not, be taken into consideration by researchers and practitioners. Output 2 and Output 3 elaborate on these challenges and explore avenues to deal with them in reflexive and democratic ways.
  • Intellectual Output 2 (O2) of the INORP project, INORP methodological guidelines. After the completion of the first Intellectual Output (O1), partners including academics, teachers and students came together in Dublin at the end of October 2021 for a five day Intensive Programme of learning, presentation, sharing and discussion of relevant ideas. Partners of the different partner countries prepared and compared small case studies of context-specific participatory projects in social work practice development, research, and education. In Output 2, several central themes were identified and illustrated by case examples of the different partners in the consortium, and resulting in practice guidelines. Output 2 also acknowledges that participatory approaches involve contradictions and complexities in process, planning and implementation, even where well-developed macro frameworks and political drivers exist. The aim of Output 3 is to gain further insight into the potential of reflexive processes to enable critical and democratic engagement with these contradictions and complexities in the domains of practice development, research and education.

In what follows, we present Intellectual Output 3 (O3) of the INORP project, INORP methodological framework for reflexive professionals in participative health and social care: Developing competences in practice development, research, and education. Output 3 is vitally informed by the lessons learned in Output 1 and Output 2

Output 3 was developed after the five day Intensive Program taking place in the beginning of May in Ghent. During this Intensive Program, the INORP team critically explored 5 key themes, which emerged incrementally as the lessons learned during the first Intensive Program in Dublin. Partners of the countries prepared and compared small case studies of reflexive professional endeavors in response to the ambition to work in participative ways in social work practice development, research, and education. The five themes identified throughout the Intensive Program in Dublin and further explored during the Intensive Program in Ghent, concern:

  1. the importance of reflexive professionalization to promote critical and productive ways of dealing with the ambiguities, tensions and challenges inherent to participative health and social care;
  2. the importance of a historical awareness of how the professional identity and mandate of social workers has been and is currently defined;
  3. the need to reflexively articulate professionals’ normative value orientations that underpin (participatory) practice;
  4. the need to reflect on how professionals construct problems, interpret service users’ voices and lived experiences, and act upon their problem constructions;
  5. the necessity of creating space for ambiguity, risks and mistakes.

During the five-day intensive program organized at Ghent University, the themes functioned as the central topics of the meeting. The case examples that were presented and discussed by researchers, students and local organizations focused on experiences that related to one or more of the 5 themes, to deepen our conceptual and empirical understanding of them, and to develop the methodological framework.

In Output 3, reflexivity and participatory practices are considered as complementary concepts for social work. Output 3 first revives the challenging nature of participation. Second, it explains the 5 central themes, presents vital case examples, and formulates critical questions that enable professionals’ reflexivity.