Eileen Munro is a Reader in Social Policy at the London School of Economics. She has experience as a practitioner and teacher of social work. Her research interests lie in reasoning skills and risk management in child protection and mental health work.
Correspondence to Dr Eileen Munro, Reader in Social Policy, London School of Economics, Houghton Streeet, London WC2A 2AE, UK. E-mail: E.Munro@lse.ac.uk
Public sector services in all developed economies have had to meet new demands for accountability and transparency, leading to the creation of complex audit systems. This article examines the way that this has been done in relation to social work practice in the UK. Auditing is a dynamic process and the aim of the Audit Commission is to be a driving force in improving services. However, it is argued that social work presents particular challenges because of the nature of its knowledge base. Improvement in services to users cannot be achieved just by managerial changes but requires rigorous research to increase our understanding of what works. The process of making social work ‘auditable’ is in danger of being destructive, creating a simplistic description of practice and focusing on achieving service outputs with little attention to user outcomes. Alternatively, however, if it is linked to research methods, it could be highly constructive, producing reliable evidence not only on efficiency but on effectiveness.