The Mathilda Wrede Institute

The Mathilda Wrede Institute is a research and development unit in Helsinki at the intersection of education, research and practice with the aim for knowledge development and knowledge production in social work. The institute was founded in 2002. It is built on a written agreement between the University of Helsinki, Arcada Applied Sciences, The Center of Expertise and municipalities of Helsinki, Espoo, Borgå, Raseborg and Kyrkslätt. 
Main resources consist of a professor, university lecturers and lecturers and researcher social workers. 

There are three main lines within the institute: 
1) Knowledge development in the borderlines between education, research and practice
2) Methodological developments in researching practice 
3) Practice research in current issues and topics

The University of Helsinki funds the practice-research professorship and lectureships, and the Social Services Department has established researcher/social-worker posts at the institute. The idea is that social workers coming from a specific field of study engage in two-year projects. The subjects of research are agreed upon in the boards of the institutes comprising the different parties involved.  

1)  Knowledge-development processes on the borderlines between education, research and practice. 

This includes developing networks and structures involving practitioners, users, students, researchers and managers. Multi-professional practice units that combine teaching (courses incorporating practice and internships), learning and research are now being piloted in real-life welfare settings within and outside the capital area. Educational modules are developed and tested, such as Biographical Work modules and Youth and Social Change modules, and open seminars and research cafés are organised. All these activities are documented and serve as research material. The key issue is the connectedness to the education in social work. The close connection with the centre of expertise also allows for the development of further-education courses. 

2)   Methodological developments in practice research 

Practices impose particular requirements on empirical research and data collection. 
Trans-disciplinary methodological workshops are held involving researchers and students as well as practitioners, in which various research processes are scrutinised. Practice-research processes are supervised reflectively in groups. It is a question of joint work on research material such as transcriptions and field notes, as well as reflection on the writing process. This is a time-consuming and long process that is embedded and implicit in all the different practice-research endeavours within the institute. Hence, the methodological developments are not an aim as such but are latent in all the research processes. 

3)   Practice research on current issues and topics

The main Practice Research aims are:
1) to identify critical practices and make social work more visible in order to disseminate practices into other contexts 
2) to study new methods in social work in cooperation with users and practitioners
3) to develop practice through research
4) to produce scientific knowledge on practice

Practice-research studies are mainly researcher/social-worker based, but also involve project researchers and developers, as well as Master’s-level students. All these involve group-based supervision, as well as peer groups. The research processes also encompass reference groups involving experts and users. The studies encompass following themes: 

Practice research themes:

- Working with immigrants; life historic perspectives and world values (Mikaela Lindroos)
- Participatory research with disabled persons (Ann-Marie Lindqvist) PhD project
Knowledge development on early intervention in substance abuse (Katarina Fagerström) PhD project
- Boys’ perspectives in school and welfare work (Harry Lunabba) PhD project
- Social workers´ agency in rehabilitation with elderly (Ylva Krokfors) PhD project
- Adoption counselling processes – from a professional and user perspective (Pia Eriksson) PhD project
- IT and changes in child protection processes (Raija Koskinen) PhD project
- Dialogical orientation in working with youth (Eivor Österlund-Holmqvist) Licentiate project

Practice research video with english text:



Ilse Julkunen (2011) Kunskap om, för och genom handling – om praktikforskningsprocesser i socialt arbete. I Hälsa och välfärd i ett föränderligt samhälle, Nygård & Finnäs(red) 2011

Ilse Julkunen (2011) Knowledge-production processes in practice research – outcomes and critical elements. Social Work and Society Vol. 9 (2011), Issue 1

Ilse Julkunen (2011) Critical elements in evaluating and developing practice in social work. Social Work & Social Sciences Review vol 15 (2011), Issue 1

Göran Goldkuhl and Ilse Julkunen (2011) Special issue on Theory and Inquiry of Practice Research . Systems, Signs and Action vol 5 (2011) no 1

Raija Koskinen and Ilse Julkunen (2011) Reflecting the methodological toolbox in studying ICT-related change in child welfare. Systems, Signs and Action, vol 5 (2011) no 1

Edgar Marthinsen and Ilse Julkunen (eds) (2012) Practice research in the Nordic countries – Knowledge production in transition. To be published in Whiting and Birch.

Erja Saurama and Ilse Julkunen (2012) Approaching Practice Research in Theory and Practice. Social Work & Social Sciences Review  (2012), forthcoming