Research Priorities in
|Recipient group||No. sent||Response||%|
|Participants and others interested||17||17||100.0|
|'York Group' members||35||20||57.0|
|Aslib Workshop members||20||12||41.5|
The questionnaire included questions on the respondents' field of work, qualifications, years of service and sex. Tables 2-4. below present the results of analysis. The average number of years of service of respondents was 3.7
|Work organization||Number||% of |
|Social services departments||21||43|
|Social welfare training or research organizations||1||2.0|
|Voluntary welfare organizations||8||16.5|
|Local authority information unit||3||6.1|
|Central government department||4||8.2|
The first part of the questionnaire listed four broad areas of potential research which respondents were asked to place in rank order of importance. This part of the questionnaire was not particularly successful because it was almost impossible to identify clearly separate research areas. The responses reflect this: for example, the mean rank of the four items ranged from 2.08 to only 2.79, and this narrow range was repeated within different respondent groups. On mean rankings all respondents agreed on the third and fourth ranking items; they were:
3. Research into information agencies: their functions, effectiveness, inter-relationships, staffing, internal organization, and methods of organizing and retrieving information.
2. Research into sources of information and information searching tools in the field of social welfare.
But respondents disagreed on the first and second ranking items: taking all responses, item 4 was ranked first and item l ranked second: i.e.,
4. Research into the services offered by information agencies: their scope, relation to intended user groups, inter-relationships, and effectiveness.
l. Research into the identification of groups of potential users of any kind of information agency in the field of social welfare, and into their information needs and information-seeking behaviour.
However, taking respondents with librarianship or information work qualifications only, this order is reversed.
These mean rank order rankings over-simplify the situation, however: if we use majority rankings the picture is rather different. Taking all respondents again, only three items were clearly ranked: item l ranked first, and items 2 and 4 ranked second. Item 3 was ranked first by 13 respondents, second by 13 respondents, third by 13 respondents and fourth by 9 respondents. Taking both approaches together, therefore, all we can suggest is that items l and 4 are probably of more importance, in the view of respondents, than items 2 and 3; but item 2 is regarded as second in importance by 39% of respondents and item 3 created the greatest divergence of opinion with 53% of respondents ranking it either first or second.
Analysis of responses, converting scores to ranks, reveals a difference of opinion between librarians and social welfare workers. Item 6, which was ranked first by librarians, was ranked second by members of the York Group:
6. A study (or series of studies) on the best method (or mix of methods) of providing an information service to individual social workers and social administrators.
Item 2, ranked first by members of the York Group, was ranked fourth by librarians:
2. A study to investigate the problems of citizens' access to social welfare information....
Items 4 and 3, ranked second and third by librarians, were ranked fifth and seventh by members of the York Group:
4. A study (or series of studies) to assess the effectiveness of the existing social welfare information agencies in providing information.
3. A series of in-depth interview surveys of the information needs of special groups of social workers and the relation of these needs to the local provision of information services.
Items 8 and 7, ranked third and fourth by members of the York Group, were ranked sixth and fifth by librarians:
8. A study of the optimum method of organizing information in social welfare organizations.
7. A study of the existing methods of disseminating information in social welfare organizations to determine the extent of overlap, and whether there are significant gaps, with a view to providing guidelines for national services....
From this analysis it can be seen that social welfare workers, that is, those interested in communication problems, see citizens' information and the internal organization of information services in social services departments as being the important problems, whereas librarians appear to attach more importance to the effectiveness of existing information services and to user needs. Table 5 below shows the rankings (based on mean scores) assigned to all items by all respondents and the other categories employed:
Using all responses and taking the mean scores, the items can be organized as follows:
1. Of moderate to great importance: Items 2, 4 and 6.
2 Of moderate importance: Items 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
3 Of slight to moderate importance: Items l and 5.
Two of the characteristics reported in para. 2 above were chosen for further analysis: possession of librarianship qualifications, and sex. The mean score assigned to all items by librarians' was 66.5, that assigned by 'non-librarians' was 58.7 – this is a statistically significant difference, indicating that, overall, librarians tend to assign higher scores to items than do non-librarians. With their professional interest in the field this is hardly surprising. The analysis by sex revealed no statistically significant differences
Inter-correlations between scores of all items of all respondents were calculated in the expectation that this might reveal groups of items which tended to be scored in a similar way. Two groups were distinguished:
1 Items 8 and 10, for which no common characteristic is evident; and
2 Items 3, 5, 6 and 7 which deal with what might be called the 'central' problems of information work—users' needs, document collections, service methods, and information dissemination. When respondents scored one of these items highly they tended to score the others highly also.
There were also some negative correlations in the set: of these, the only ones open to some sort of logical interpretation were that, when items 2 and j were scored high, items c) and io were scored low. This would seem to indicate a concern for finding out more about the information needs of potential client groups before taking action on matters such as a clearing house for information, or educational programmes for information workers.
The aim of this exercise was to provide Forum participants with some information on potential areas for research and possible priorities. The mail survey technique was used as the quickest way of obtaining a wide variety of views, and as capable of providing results which participants could discuss. As noted earlier, the results of the analysis of the questionnaire responses were presented to the Forum participants in the form of a "background paper" with the intention of replacing the second round of a typical Delphi study by direct interaction between participants from different fields. During the Forum, discussion was concerned with the identification of relevant research themes, and this included discussion on the priorities to be assigned to these themes both directly and indirectly, since the more significant themes tended to recur as topics of discussion in different discussion groups. At the end of the Forum there was general agreement that a group of studies concerned with the state-of-the-art of information services in social welfare should be given priority in any research funding. This group included case studies of social services departments, their channels of communication, the information-seeking behaviour of practitioners, and the dissemination of research results. This list corresponds closely to the themes given greatest priority in the first round of the investigation. In conclusion, the Delphi technique offers a means whereby the informed opinions of a wide range of individuals can be sought and compared to obtain a consensus of opinion on matters of public or professional concern. If the respondents, or at least a selection of respondents, can be brought together for subsequent discussions, it seems likely that a stronger consensus can be achieved, with the valuable by-product of mutual understanding of alternative points of view.
Any researcher owes a debt of gratitude to those anonymous individuals who become the statistics in his paper, and that is a debt which I gratefully acknowledge. I would also like to thank the British Library R. & D. Department for providing funds for the Forum and the background research and, in particular, two members of that Department who commented helpfully on the questionnaire, David Russon and Alan MacGregor. Several members of the Aslib Working Group on Information Needs in Social Welfare contributed helpfully to various aspects of the work, particularly Maurice Line on questionnaire design and Maureen Webley on potentially useful respondents.
1. Mann, M. G., and Wilson, T. D. Report of proceedings of the forum together with background papers... Available from the Postgraduate School of Librarianship and Information Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, price £2.00. [Now, June 2001, out-of-print]
Borko, H., ed. Targets for research in library education. Chicago: American Library Association, 1973
Reilly, K. D. "The Delphi technique: fundamentals and applications", in Borko, op. cit., 187-199
Listed below are four broad areas of potential research in the field of social welfare library and information research. We would like your opinion on the rank order importance of these areas. Please circle the appropriate rank number for each item.
1. Research into the identification of groups of potential users of any kind of information agency (e.g., public library, Citizen's Advice Bureau, voluntary agency information service, social service department information service, etc.) in the field of social welfare, and into their information needs and information-seeking behaviour.
Rank: 1 2 3 4
2. Research into sources of information (books, journals, reports, etc.) and information searching tools (abstracting and indexing services, etc.) in the field of social welfare. Including, for example, their geographical and linguistic distribution, inter-relationships, intended audiences, coverage, overlap, etc., and into the dissemination by these means of information from one area of activity (e.g., research) into another (e.g., practice of teaching).
Rank: 1 2 3 4
3. Research into information agencies (libraries, information services, advice centres, etc.): their functions, effectiveness, inter-relationships (including the potential for cooperation), staffing (including education and training), internal organization, and methods of organizing and retrieving information.
Rank: 1 2 3 4
4· Research into the services offered by information agencies: their scope, relation to intended user groups, inter-relationships (including the scope for cooperation), and effectiveness. Including the design, coverage and effectiveness of information bulletins and other current-awareness methods.
Rank: 1 2 3 4
Listed below are l0 themes on which research might be undertaken. Please give your opinion on the importance of each by making a '/' mark at the appropriate point on each scale. The points on the scale have the following significance, and a '/' mark is given to show how to indicate your judgement:
In the position shown, the '/' mark indicates a score of about 35.
The following are the research projects that have been proposed:
1. A study to determine the problems of the diffusion of relevant research findings into the teaching and practice of social work, and to assess alternative methods of improving the situation. For example, by:
2. A study to investigate the problems of citizens' access to social welfare information and the roles of central and local government departments, public libraries, and the communications media in resolving these problems.
3. A series of in-depth interview surveys of the information needs of special groups of social workers (e.g. probation officers, medical social workers) and the relation of these needs to the local provision of information services.
4. A study (or series of studies) to assess the effectiveness of the existing social welfare information agencies (public libraries, social service department information services, etc.) in providing information. For example, by:
5. Studies of the nature and scope of existing collections of social welfare information, their use and relationship to national collections. For example, by:
6. A study (or series of studies) on the best method (or mix of methods) of providing an information service to individual social workers and social administrators. For example, by setting up and evaluating experimental services based on:
7. A study of the existing methods of disseminating information in social welfare organizations to determine the extent of overlap, and whether there are significant gaps, with a view to providing guidelines for national services and for the design of new information dissemination tools, e.g., new forms of information bulletins, and reviews of research.
8. A study of the optimum method of organizing information in social welfare organizations (including locally generated information such as statistics and case records). This would include the study of potential for the use of computers and the development of appropriate tools such as classification schemes.
9. The establishment on an experimental basis of a clearing house for social welfare information enquiries, publicizing its services, evaluating its success, and assessing the feasibility of a permanent service.
10. A study to identify education and training requirements for information workers in the social sciences and, in particular, in social welfare.
Thank you for your assistance. In order to help us with our analysis of this questionnaire we would be grateful if you would answer the following personal questions:
1. In what kind of organization do you work at present? For example: public library, Social Services Department, voluntary social welfare organization, etc.:
2. For how many years have you been employed in this organization?
3. Do you have any formal qualifications in librarianship or information science? If so, please state qualification.
4. What is your official title?
5. Are you male .................. or female ..................? Please tick.
This paper was originally published in Journal of Librarianship, 7(4), October 1975, 252-260