Evaluating effectiveness in social work: Sharing dilemmas in practice

Viviene Cree*, Sumeet Jain, David Peter Hillen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evaluating effectiveness is of primary concern to social work practice; resources will always be limited, and those using services deserve the best. But what is effectiveness, and how should it be measured? This paper explores the challenge of measuring effectiveness in social work by examining two small-scale evaluations of services (statutory and voluntary) in Scotland. Both evaluations used a mixed method approach and both were conducted in a climate of funding cuts. It will be argued that evaluating effectiveness sits uncomfortably between new public management (NPM)’s imperative for measurement and efficiency within a market economy and agencies’ own need to reflect on their practice and respond to the views of their service-users. Such processes force agencies into a continual cycle of monitoring and review that may, paradoxically, impede organic change and development. It is suggested that an alternative, critical paradigm in evaluation offers a positive way forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-610
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date23 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • evaluation
  • new public management
  • social work
  • critical paradigm
  • research methods
  • realistic evaluation


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