In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Translational Science and Social Work

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Internet-Based Resources
  • Barriers and Facilitators of Translation
  • Methods of Inquiry in Translational Science
  • International Translation

Social Work Translational Science and Social Work
Haluk Soydan, Lawrence A. Palinkas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0070


Translational science is the study of the processes and outcomes of the translation and implementation of evidence-based practices in social work. Translation and implementation are not to be limited to evidence-based practices. Although implementation historically has been attributed to application of a broader range of scientific knowledge to practice, translation is a product of the development of the evidence-based practice movement and increased awareness of the quality of evidence supporting what works and what is potentially harmful in social work. Translational science in social work involves translating practices found to be both efficacious and effective into real-world conditions. Translational science addresses issues of barriers and facilitators of evidence dissemination, translation, and implementation. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States has been an important promoter of translational science. Translational science is also connected to other important concepts. These include diffusion (the passive spread of evidence), dissemination (active and planned efforts to induce defined groups to adopt an evidence-based intervention), and sustainability (when an adopted innovation becomes routine). This entry goes beyond original thoughts in translational science as translation of basic discoveries, to interventions by biomedical sciences. Translational research in social work today also includes effective interventions by professionals.

Introductory Works

Translational science is a new research field; consequently, specialized literature is still scarce or in progress. A large body of literature addresses translational science and implementation science jointly. However, two introductory textbooks on the science of translation with specific reference to social work is now available (Palinkas and Soydan 2012, Soydan and Palinkas 2014). Grimshaw, et al. 2012 provides a well-structured introduction to knowledge translation. Brownson, et al. 2012 focuses on health sciences but has great relevance to social work. In addition, Brekke, et al. 2007 and Palinkas 2010 are two easily accessible articles that position the social work profession in the field of translational research. The NIH Roadmap provides a good window into background concerns regarding the gap between evidence production and everyday utilization and strategies necessary to overcome the knowledge gap. Westfall, et al. 2007 and Woolf 2008 elaborate on some the complexities of the science of translation and is complementary reading to About the NIH Roadmap. Rogers 2003 provides an early theoretical and historical perspective.

  • Brekke, John, Kathleen Ell, and Lawrence A. Palinkas. 2007. Translational science at the National Institute of Mental Health: Can social work take its rightful place? Research on Social Work Practice 17.1: 123–133.

    DOI: 10.1177/1049731506293693

    This relatively early article—in terms of the development of translational science in social work—serves as a programmatic introduction to increased awareness of the profession in terms of the gap between evidence production and implementation of the evidence in real-life situations. It also makes a case for social work to contribute actively to research funded by the NIH. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Brownson, R. C., G. A. Colditz, and E. K. Proctor, eds. 2012. Dissemination and implementation research in health: Translating science to practice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751877.001.0001

    This edited book provides a large number of chapters that present and discuss all aspects of dissemination and translation of evidence in health sciences and health-related practices, including pertinent theories, available empirical evidence, and population-specific issues. Although this book has a health research and practice focus, it is useful for social workers.

  • Grimshaw, Jeremy M., Martin P. Eccles, John N. Lavis, Sophie J. Hill, and Janet E. Squires. 2012. Knowledge translation of research findings. Implementation Science 7:50.

    DOI: 10.1186/1748-5908-7-50

    This article outlines essential components of translation including what should be transferred, to whom should research knowledge be transferred, by whom should be transferred, how should be transferred, and with what effect should be transferred. It suggests that the basic unit of knowledge translation should usually be systematic reviews or other syntheses of research findings.

  • National Institutes of Health. About the NIH Roadmap.

    This website describes a major research program on translational research launched by the NIH in 2004. The Roadmap was originally designed for the biomedical field but developed, in practice, to include mental health and behavioral sciences including social work.

  • Palinkas, Lawrence A. 2010. Commentary: Cultural adaptation, collaboration, and exchange. Research on Social Work Practice 20.5: 544–546.

    DOI: 10.1177/1049731510366145

    This commentary article describes social workers as both culture brokers and change agents in their work with individual clients, families, and communities. The author argues that the specific nature of the social work profession makes it particularly well positioned in the process of translational research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Palinkas, Lawrence A., and Haluk Soydan. 2012. Translation and implementation of evidence-based practice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book is a pioneering publication that outlines a strategy for conducting translational research within the field of social work. The authors describe the challenges of conducting translational research and provide a comprehensive introduction to the field of translational science from both theoretical and methodological perspectives.

  • Proctor, Enola, Hiie Silmere, Ramesh Raghavan, et al. 2011. Outcomes for implementation research: Conceptual distinctions, measurement challenges, and research agenda. Administration and Policy in Mental Health 38:65–76.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10488-010-0319-7

    This paper advances the concept of “implementation outcomes” distinct from service system and clinical treatment outcomes and proposes a heuristic, working “taxonomy” of eight conceptually distinct implementation outcomes: acceptability, adoption, appropriateness, feasibility, fidelity, implementation cost, penetration, and sustainability.

  • Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press.

    First published in 1962, this book became a classic over the years. Based on a broad range of empirical data from many fields, it offers a theoretical model of innovation diffusion. The model provides terminology that still supports contemporary efforts to develop dissemination, translation, and implementation models. The book is relative lengthy but can be reviewed selectively.

  • Soydan, Haluk, and Lawrence A. Palinkas. 2014. Evidence-based practice in social work: Development of a new professional culture. New York: Routledge.

    This book provides both an argument for the importance of evidence-based practice in social work and fresh perspectives on its controversies and organizational prerequisites. It gives an accessible overview of why evidence-based practice is relevant to social work and the challenges that the realities of social work practice present to models of evidence-based practice.

  • Westfall, John M., James Mold, and Lyle Fagnan. 2007. Practice-based research—“Blue Highways” on the NIH Roadmap. Journal of the American Medical Association 297.4: 403–406.

    DOI: 10.1001/jama.297.4.403.

    This article is an early attempt to further operationalize the NIH Roadmap (About the NIH Roadmap). Although it is slightly complicated, it is effective in outlining various aspects of translation research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Woolf, Steven H. 2008. The meaning of translational research and why it matters. Journal of the American Medical Association 299.2: 211–213.

    DOI: 10.1001/jama.2007.26

    This brief commentary provides an overview of the implications of translational research and compares translational research (defined as translation from basic research to applied research [T1]) with translation from clinical research to routine practice (T2), emphasizing the importance of the latter. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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