Using Participatory Action Research to Develop a Resource for use in Reflective Supervision in Child and Family Social Work

  • Caroline M Webb

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Background: Reflective supervision is widely accepted as an essential component of child and family social work, but it has proved challenging to implement. This thesis examines a ‘Change Project’ designed to support the development of reflective supervision in children and families social work in England.
Change Projects are an example of participatory action research (PAR) with underlying principles of participation, reflection, knowledge sharing, an ethos of empowerment and a step-by-step process to promote change through action.

Methods: The objectives were to provide a critical analysis of the project and to explore the practicalities and benefits of implementing the resources developed. Different research methods were adopted at each phase based on their suitability and relevance. They included reflections from key participants, including the researcher, on the process of the project; piloting of the resources by supervisors and evaluation using surveys and semi-structured interviews; and analysis of feedback on the published resource handbook.

Findings: There was strong commitment to reflective supervision from organisations and individuals. The Change Project closely resembled other models of action research in structure and sequence, and promoted empowerment and collaboration. Key benefits were peer support, networking and knowledge-exchange.
Most supervisors found the resource pack easy to use, and believed the tools strengthened workers’ analysis and critical thinking skills. The tools also increased supervisors’ confidence in providing personal aspects of reflective supervision, thereby promoting workers’ emotional resilience. General workload pressure was a common barrier to their use.

Conclusions: The Change Project reflected existing principles of PAR, and further examination of the process supported the development of a new conceptual model of PAR. A reflexive analysis of the lessons learnt highlighted the unique role of action researchers and suggestions for future outcomes-focused research. The project had benefits for the group which developed the resources, and the supervisors who used them in the pilot. The Reflective Supervision Resource Pack produced by the project was highly valued by local authorities, and helped to support their implementation of reflective supervision in practice.

Key words: Reflective Supervision, Child and Family Social Work, Participatory Action Research
Date of Award28 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJohn S W Carpenter (Supervisor) & Jon P Symonds (Supervisor)

Cite this