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Jim Poulter Author of Books on Aboriginal Culture and Child Protection
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Research and Theory Building Functions of Heuristic Case Practice

Published in Australian Social Work, Vol. 56, No.4, December 2003, pp.318-328.


Existing conceptualisations of reflexive and reflective practice are utilised in this paper to examine the interventive and modelling research functions embedded in case practice. The sequential steps involved in these embedded research functions are compared to the steps identified in qualitative research methodology and to the two models developed by Norma Lang. This paper integrates the research steps involved in both reflexive and reflective practice into a single model of two loops, one truncated and one extended. The six sequential research steps involved in the truncated cycle of reflexive practice are defined as observing, describing, abstracting, generalising, assimilating and acting. The ten sequential steps involved in the full reflective cycle are defined as observing, describing, abstracting, generalising, categorising, ordering, contextualising, modelling, accommodating, and acting. The practical expression of these steps in the field within the processes of critical incident learning and critical mass learning are then discussed.


This paper and the subsequent ASW paper published in September 2006 are related. They form part of my thinking about the embedded research functions within everyday case practice. I began this train of thought in my doctoral thesis and have continued to develop the ideas, culminating in my text ‘An Integrated Theory of Practice in Social Work. This paper therefore forms the second part of Chapter Nine in this text, as readers will see from the table of contents.

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