The present study aims to focus on workplace learning and understanding learning as creation (Kessels, 1995, 1996, 2001; Verdonschot, 2009; Billett and Choy, 2013) to bridge the gap between education and practice addressing the complex real world issue of poverty and social exclusion in The Netherlands. When researchers and practitioners are confronted with the dynamic complexity of the real world (Mahoney and Sanchez, 2004), it becomes evident how limited the ability of researchers and managers is to fully comprehend, describe, explain and (perhaps) predict the world as it is and as it is becoming. A mission of reconnecting theory-building from the outside and theory-building from the inside requires a process of interconnected research and practice in which interactions between managers and researchers have a purposeful focus on theory-building.
The study is an example of engaged scholarship as proposed by Van de Ven and Johnson (2006) and a baseline study of a time series design from 2001-2008 comparing the effects of a “current treatment” in social work in The Netherlands at t0; explaining the collaborative design between practitioners, innovation consultants and scholars of a “new treatment”; and measuring the effects on social quality at t1.
The paper provides insight in the level of social quality of clients in a situation of poverty and social exclusion. Lessons learned from workplace learning as creation in social work practice provides input for improving work practices through training and development of social workers.
Early notions for a potential new “treatment” have clearly not been fully dealt with in this baseline study. As stated this base-line study aims at overcoming the lack of insight in the client’s life-world and open the black box to gain fresh insights. This is clearly just a first step of a much longer learning and creation process. Now that more insight in the clients life world is available, engaged researchers have proposed a new, more productive mindset of clients in a situation of poverty and social exclusion that they should not be regarded as a “granite base”, but rather as “architects and builders” of their own life–worlds, with the social services as the “main contractor” to build trust, empower by helping to explicate personal survival strategies and planning for social inclusion (Van Damme, 1999). The limited number of respondents (N = 31) in this study is a limitation of this study, and findings cannot be generalised. Findings are no more than early indications and are not representative for other populations. Further research on a larger scale and in other research settings is needed.
Implications are that design principles for a new and more participatory and socially oriented approach for workplace learning as creation should include the role of building trust in establishing relational quality between the public service organisation, other institutions and the client. First indications are that trust and empowerment may better enable clients in a situation of poverty and social exclusion to take charge of the design of their own lives and to construct and co-construct it accordingly. The role of actors from social services to build trusted relations, empower and co-construct an improved reality bear both elements of social learning, through dialogue (construct and co-construct knowledge = to know) and elements from social empowerment as part of the social quality concept (to act). Understanding the effects of the “current treatment” as input for workplace learning allows for an improved connection between practice and theory on workplace learning and social quality, thereby making a decisive contribution in closing the gap between real-world complex issues and education.
A better understanding of the aspects of social quality and social exclusion from theory and from social work practice.
The original contribution of the research is the provision of insight into the complexity of workplace learning in social work when dealing with poverty and social exclusion. The focus on both the process of learning, as well as the outcome of learning, can be considered original.
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