RGU involved in major European study into systemic social work practice

The university is taking part in a €115,000 project to establish a common European perspective on systemic social work practice.

Entitled ‘Systemic social work Throughout EuroPe' (STEP) the project is concerned primarily with the less-common - but arguably more effective - branch of social work practice which seeks to effect change by broadening the focus from a person's unfavourable circumstances to consider the environment in which these circumstances have developed.

Steve Hothersall, who is a senior lecturer within the university's School of Applied Social Studies, has taken the position of primary researcher at RGU for the STEP project and is working with partner institutions in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, England and Finland. Together, they aim to establish the current extent of systemic practice in social work settings throughout these countries and to determine the degree to which such principles are being adopted.

STEP has been funded by the Leonardo Programme, which supports the development of vocationally based education and, in this particular instance, European projects which discuss common industry issues and develop training materials, courses and frameworks to address them.

The project formally launched on 28 September 2011 with the first in a six-part series of conferences which are being run until the project's completion in 2013. The inaugural conference took place in the London Borough of Hackney from 28 September to 1 October 2011.

Future conferences will take place over the next two years and will be similarly hosted by the other European partner institutions. RGU will host the next conference in the series from 14 to 16 March 2012.

In addition to research, the project aims to develop a range of online teaching materials on systemic social work practice and to disseminate these widely.

The project developed from a staff exchange in 2009 between RGU and Arbeitskreis fur Systemische Sozialarbeit, Beratung und Supervision (ASYS) in Vienna. ASYS director and thought-leader in the systemic practice of social work, Walter Milowiz approached Steve to join the project and contribute to the research element given his particular interest in systemic approaches to social work practice, especially in relation to work with children and their families.

Highlighting the main differences between conventional social work practice and the systemic approach, Walter explained: "Systemic social work marks a significant departure from current forms of practice which focus on people living under certain conditions. These current forms of social work practice involve stabilising such conditions by providing goods, money or re-education. While these solutions work in the short time, they are often unsustainable and relapses are common.

"The systemic approach, however, recognises that living conditions are not created simply by the person concerned - surrounding people and organisations are greatly involved in interactions that define the living situation and by affecting change at this level, the intervention becomes far more sustainable."

Commenting on the Leonardo Programme funding, and what this means for European social work practice and the university, Steve continued: "The STEP project provides RGU with a great opportunity to utilise its renowned expertise in social work education to further develop partnerships with European colleagues who have the potential to enhance our research profile and the student experience."

"It is hoped that the interchange of ideas and practices, and the subsequent development and dissemination of the findings of the STEP project's review will not only increase professional awareness of important systemic principles, but enhance the capacity of professionals to implement these principles confidently in their practice at all levels.

"Not only could this have profoundly positive effects on the lives of service users, but in focusing on the policy level as well as those areas that impact more intimately on people's lives, the project offers the potential to influence change at the level of policy systems."


Notes to editors

The STEP Project is being carried out in collaboration between:

  • Arbeitskreis fur Systemische Sozialarbeit, Beratung und Supervision (The working group for systemic social work, consultation and supervision)
  • Fachhochschule Campus Wien
  • Hochschule Luzern
  • Hochschule Merseburg
  • London Borough of Hackney
  • Robert Gordon University
  • University of Helsinki

The Leonardo Programme funds opportunities for UK vocational education & training organisations, staff and learners. Funding is for any UK organisation involved in vocational education & training.

Issued by:
Andrew Youngson
Communications Officer | Faculty of Health and Social Care
Robert Gordon University
AB10 1FR
Tel: 01224 262389