Skip to main content

Experimental Research in Social Work: A Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) in Motivational Interviewing

Presenter: David Westlake


The first randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in social work were done in the 1970’s, but social work RCTs remain very rare. There are several challenges in doing an RCT in the real world setting of Children’s Services, such as recruiting participants and gaining consent. Yet the method has a lot to offer for evaluating social work interventions and understanding what works and how. In 2012-14 I project managed an RCT in an inner London local authority, as part of a team of researchers in a study led by Professor Donald Forrester.

The aim of this session is to explore the issues relating to RCTs in social work research, and the challenges and opportunities of adopting what is often described as “the gold standard” in evaluation. I will use the study to illustrate how it is possible to successfully randomise families in Children’s Services, and argue that RCTS are valuable but very challenging.