Creativity within standardisation: Rethinking social work relationships with technology

Paper to be presented at #husITa16 in Seoul, Korea, 29 June 2016.


Sera Harris (University of Western Sydney, Australia).


Social work, historically, has had a contentious relationship to the use and adoption of technology in practice. Identifying technology as a ‘tool’, social work discourse accounts for how traditional understandings of core social work skills are ‘translated’ into the digital. Thus engagement through ‘tools’, rather than engagement through digital spaces, poses limitations. This research explores Australian social worker’s relationships with technology. The research explores emerging practices where social workers manage new complexities; tensions between the evidence based practice that professional codes and funders call for and a return to the humanist principle of ‘meeting clients where they are at’.

Utilising a mixed methods approach of online surveys and technology ‘walk throughs’ as research spaces, this project documents through social workers’ own accounts, current practices in government, private and non-government sectors that are yet to be accounted for in social work practice theory. Documenting social work practices that do not ordinarily seek audience, this research offers intricate and detailed understandings of how social workers ‘use self’, and how they navigate ethical challenges in their day-to-day on and offline practice.

Social workers and their relationship with technology can no longer be ‘separated’ from core practice. Social workers are creating practices in digital spaces that are context-driven and attempt to meet the diverse needs of clients. Social workers are creating and navigating through their own sense of on and offline boundaries with and sometimes without support of organisational policy and procedures.

The research findings call for an integrated understanding of the relationship between social work and technology. The research findings can help advocate for improved support of social workers and can guide the practice and supervision of social workers in a broad range of settings. This research identifies new strategies for the ‘use of self’ and for self care in online spaces.


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