Institute for Research in Social Sciences

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Decision, Assessment, Risk and Evidence Studies (DARES)

For the latest information on DARE conferences visit

There is a developing programme of research, teaching and organisation development on decision making, assessment, risk and evidence-based practice at Ulster University designed to support the development of professional practice and policy in social work and allied human service professions.

Our fourth biennial Symposium on Decisions, Assessment, Risk and Evidence in Social Work (DARE IV) took place on 05 & 06 July 2016 at the Templeton Hotel, Templepatrick near Belfast International Airport. The conference was attended by about 130 people from 12 countries. The plenary speakers were: 

  • Professor Dr Gerd Gigerenzer is Director of the Harding Centre for Risk Literacy and Director of the Centre for Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition (ABC) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany, where he leads world-leading research on heuristic models of decision making and risk communication.

  • Dr John Fluke is Associate Director of Systems Research & Evaluation and Associate Professor at the Kempe Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, University of Colorado, USA. He is internationally recognized as a researcher specializing in assessing and analyzing decision-making particularly in child welfare and mental health services for children.

  • Professor Mandeep K. Dhami PhD is Professor of Decision Psychology at Middlesex University, London. She is an expert on decision-making, risk and uncertainty, and has undertaken extensive research and teaching in this topic area particularly within the criminal justice sector.

Further information is at:

To be put on the mailing list to receive publicity contact Mrs Sharon Lucas at

  • For information about the 2015-16 DARES programme of events please click HERE.
    • Power Point Presentation. How do people with dementia and family carers conceptualise and approach risk.

      Thursday 10th March 2016, DARES Seminar Series

  • For information about the 2014-15 DARES programme of events please click HERE.

Professional Judgement and Decisions

Decision making is of crucial importance to the social work profession.  Lives and liberty depend on decisions taken in crises and high risk situations such as in child protection and mental health.  A central issue is the professional judgment of the social work practitioner working at the interface between the needs of clients and families and statutory duties to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect on behalf of society.

For further information on some of the research at Ulster on understanding professional judgment in social work click here.

Assessment Tools and Processes to inform Decisions

Professional judgments increasingly have to be based explicitly on relevant knowledge and sound reasoning applied to the circumstances and attributes of the client and family.  A central element in practice is the development of robust approaches to assessment to aid sound decision making, involving both efficient assessment systems and rigorous assessment tools.   Assessment tools may be designed to support the comprehensive gathering or ordering of information, to predict the likelihood of harm, to guide analysis or to support multi-professional working as well as gathering data for monitoring and service development purposes.

For further information on some of the work at Ulster to support social work decision making by developing professional assessment tools click here.

Risk and Decisions in Professional Practice

The uncertainties of life for all of us mean that many decisions made by social workers are in the context of risk.   One aspect of the role of a Social Worker is to support clients in reasonable, reasoned risk-taking decision making, such as when a person with a disability seeks a more independent life style. Another common situation is the decision about long term care options where an older person has dementia or has had a hospital admission for a stroke or a fall.  It is important to understand how clients, families and professionals themselves conceptualise risk so as to improve decision making in this challenging area.

For further information on some Ulster research and development on risk and decision making in social work click here.

For further information on the current project on Risk Communication in Dementia click here.

Creating and Using Evidence in Decisions

Human decisions are generally thought to be based on the present evidence and a rational decision process.  For professionals a key issue is to make the knowledge base and decision process explicit for purposes such as accountability, reflective learning and teaching skills to others.  For Social Workers this demand for more explicit decision making relates particularly to such contexts as inter-professional case conferences in complex care situations, and contested court hearings in relation to child protection.  The emerging world of evidence based practice is concerned with explicit use of the best available knowledge to inform decisions.  This involves knowledge and skills in areas such as retrieving research and other knowledge from electronic sources, appraising its quality, synthesizing the findings, disseminating knowledge to guide practice, and applying knowledge appropriately in individual decisions about client care.

For further information on some Ulster work on evidence to inform decision making in social work click here.

For further information on research and evaluation student reports please click here.

DARE biennial Symposium

Our third biennial Symposium on Decisions, Assessment, Risk and Evidence in Social Work (DARE III) took place on 01 & 02 July 2014 at the Templeton Hotel, Templepatrick near Belfast International Airport. The plenary speakers were:
- Professor Eileen Gambrill, University of California at Berkeley, USA, internationally recognised for her work on critical thinking, decision making and related ethical issues, and evidence based practice;
- Dr Martin Webber, University of York, UK, well-known for his passion for rigorous research in mental health social work, including application of evidence to practice decisions and professional knowledge-creation processes; and
- Mr David Carson, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth, UK, an international speaker on the interface between law and risk in human services, and the management of risk and decisions in organizations. The conference was attended by about 125 people from eleven countries: Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United States of America. Further information is at:

Our second biennial Symposium on Decisions, Assessment, Risk and Evidence in Social Work (DARE II) was held in July 2012. The plenary speakers were: Prof Hazel Kemshall (De Montfort University, Leicester; widely known for her many books and articles on risk in social work and criminal justice) and Prof Aron Shlonsky (University of Toronto; acknowledged for his leadership in child protection assessment tools and in systematic reviewing of research to inform social work decisions). There were about thirty presentations at the two day conference, which was attended by approximately 110 people. Delegates came from nine countries: Canada, England, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, United States of America and Wales. Further information is available at:

International Symposium on Factorial Survey Methods

A developing method of studying individual judgement is the innovative factorial survey research design. Decision makers are presented with 10 to 20 vignettes (case scenarios) based on real-life types of situation and asked what judgement they would make. The factors included in the vignettes are varied randomly so that more factors may be included than in the more common factorial experiment. This gives greater realism (external validity) as well as having the strengths of an experimental design. For further information on the factorial survey research method click here

The DARES research cluster within the Institute for Research in Social Sciences ran a one day symposium on this innovative method on 03 July 2014. For further information, including call for abstracts, click here. A second International Symposium is being held at Brunel University in London on 15 June 2016 (

Education and Training

A module of Post Qualifying Education for Social Workers focused on ‘Professional Decision Making’ has been created in collaboration with employers in Northern Ireland including the Health and Social Care Trusts and voluntary sector organisations.  This is part of the Initial Professional Development Programme designed to extend the knowledge and skills of Social Workers during their first two years after qualifying.   This is a unique development in the UK and internationally.


For further information on this click here.

A text book has been written specifically to support this module, but with wider application across qualifying and post qualifying social work courses: Taylor BJ (2013) Professional Decision Making and Risk in Social Work (2nd edition), London: Sage.


Click here for further information.


For further information on the DARES programme of research, development and teaching on decision making, assessment, risk and evidence in social work contact Dr Brian Taylor, Member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences at

For the latest information on DARE conferences visit