Reflective Practice, Continous Professional Development and Knowledge Management

The Key Situations in Social Work Model


  • Key
    The Key Situation Model

    The Key Situation model is an innovative approach to university and workplace based professional development. It combines a group-based reflective process organised around typical, reoccurring social work situations with online learning on the Key Situation platform. A situation is defined from the perspective of professionals, as a temporally uninterrupted flow of action such as a home visit1. Communities of practice within and across organisations support the development of professional knowledge and focus on quality development and assurance. The model is designed for social workers, employers and universities.

  • Circle
    Reflective learning and knowledge co-production

    The Key Situation model has grown out of a need to enhance the way professionals in education and practice merge theory, research and ethical knowledge with ‘a common-sense grasp of a situation, formal rules with creativity, standards with improvisation and reason with intuition’2, ‘in ways that “speak” to the situations regularly encountered in social work’3. This involves both analytic and intuitive skills. We know that skilled intuition is best developed in conversation with others, whereby experience is mulled over in reflection4.

  • Collaboration
    A culture of learning and CPD within and across organisations

    The development of professional competence relies on ‘a learning culture and environment where reflective practice, evidence and research mindedness underpin the focus on practice’5. The Key Situation model aims to create and sustain such a culture and offers an approach based on communities of practice and collaborative learning. Communities of practice within and across organisations work on key themes to support individual, organisational and professional learning.

  • Screens
    Access to situated knowledge for social workers

    Experience and research shows that investing in access to knowledge alone often does not lead to the integration of it in making professional judgements or reports6. What is required is an approach that pays attention to both technical-material tools and social practices7. Therefore, the Key Situation model combines its platform embeds continuous learning in communities of practice and an international network of practitioners and academics8. It offers a practice-based approach to knowledge management, dialogue and discourse on key situations in social work on a safe platform run by the Association Network Key Situations in Social Work.

  • Sheet
    Get involved! Call for experienced social workers to participate in research

    The model is applied in universites and organisation in German speaking regions in Europe. To adapt it for English social work, a participatory research project with experienced social workers will analyse and describe English key situations. So far, 13 social workers have contributed to the research and in two participatory research workshops have identified over 180 tasks and situations, which combined led to a draft list of 105 key situations. The final phase of the research, seeks to gain agreement on these situation titles from the professional community in England in two Delphi survey rounds. Are you interested in contributing? It will take you approximately 15 to 35 minutes to complete the first sruvey and is completely anonymous. You can find further information under the survey link which will take you straight to the survey, once you have consented.

Reflective Learning Process

The Key Situation reflective learning model9, guides learners through eight steps. They describe an experienced situation (2), link it to a key situation title (1), tease out the emotion and reflection-in-action (3) and elaborate on overarching characteristics of such situations (4). General knowledge (theoretical, research and ethical knowledge) and specific knowledge (experience, organisational, skills) are identified and linked with the situation (5). From this, quality standards for social work practice in key situations are developed (6) and used to reflect on the situation (7). This finally, leads to the generation of alternative courses of action for future similar situations (8). Here (pdf) you find further information on the process and here (pdf) an example of a situation completed by a newly qualified social worker.

Reflection process

Learners work in small groups both face-to-face and online, each reflecting on their own experienced situation but all working on situations with the same key situation title. Therefore, they constantly engage in a process of thinking about the general and specific aspects. They document this on the Key Situation platform. Therefore, the knowledge within such reflections becomes accessible to others and feedback is given at each step of the way.

The process is facilitated and incorporates elements of problem-based learning that requires learners to identify knowledge resources and then think about their relevance to the situation. Unlike other reflection models, it is an in-depth learning process that involves many activities over several weeks. This model can be applied in social work education and CPD both in university and practice settings.

Continuous Professional Development

Because training and access to knowledge alone is not enough to develop and sustain professional expertise, the Key Situation continuous professional development (CPD) approach is built on ongoing reflective learning. This approach to CPD is flexible and can be integrated in workplace or university settings. It enables not only development of competence but crucially, also the integration of new evidence, changes in the legal, policy framework and learning form situational experience, which is increasingly more important in a fast-changing world. It aims to enhance social workers’ ability to justify their actions with reference to evidence from multiple sources, including research, theory and the law and practice wisdom.

Continuous professional development

Feedback from participants in a pilot implementation in an ASYE programme showed that: 'It has not been easy to reflect on one situation in such depth but on the other hand it has been an extremely useful tool.' Furthermore, the reflection process 'informed my reflections in practice.'

Reflective learning is most effective as a social process in which learners share and co-construct knowledge, experience and values and therefore in this approach reflective learning is organised in communities of practice10. Communities of practice are also organised as learning hubs within and across organisations. In these, themes of interest to the organisation and the profession can be explored and situations on the platform are reviewed11.

If you are interested in designing work-based CPD based on the key situation model contact us (see contact at bottom of page)

Platform / Knowledge Management

The Key Situation model is based on the assumption that any profession can be described by its typical, reoccurring situations. Key situation titles thus offer a practice-based categorisation of knowledge and social workers can associatively identify relevant situations to plan, reflect on or learn about practice challenges, for example when thinking about a home visit.

Most reflective learning takes place verbally and when social workers leave an organisation they walk away with knowledge. The Key Situation platform therefore captures and shares situated knowledge and enables discussions within and across communities of practice. It is operated by the Association Network Key Situations in Social Work whose vision is to in create a platform like Wikipedia that is based on social work practice situations.

The platform was developed between 2014 and 2016 in a research and development project. It is user-friendly and is based on the principles of openness and participation and allows its users to access, comment on and create key situations. The platform also offers community and discussion spaces. Spaces can be open or closed so that teams or organisations can engage in learning and discussion in a safe space. Accessing the open space is free of charge.

The platform is only open to social work practitioners and academics, it is a public space for the professional and academic communities but not for the general public. The Wiki based platform is hosted by a provider in Switzerland that guarantees adherence to Swiss and European data protection regulations. As the platform is protected, no data can be found or accessed by Internet search engines. On registration, every user has to agree to a ‘Data Privacy Statement’ (pdf) and ‘Terms of Use’ (pdf) to safeguard both platform user data and data in relation to social work situations. Situations are only published in anonymised.

The German language spaces on the Key Situation platform have around 1500 users. It is planned to develop an English space in 2019.

The Key Situation Model
Outlook and Research

The Key Situation model with its practice-based reflective learning approach, communities of practice, network and platform has the potential to transform the way:

• social workers engage in continuous professional development,

• organisations arrange learning and knowledge management and

• the profession as a whole participates in a discourse on quality of social work practice, knowledge and ethics.

Our vision is to develop a network of social workers, academics and organisations who collaboratively develop and share their knowledge and experience and help shape the knowledge base and culture of the profession.

If you are interested to learn more about the model, why not take a look at this screencast from the SOAS Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2018: The Key Situaitons in Social Work Reflective Learning Model

In 2019 the research project 'A Practice-based Curriculum for Reflective Learning in Social Work will be completed. For information on the project see the following two blogs: A Practice-based Curriculum for Reflective Learning in Social Work Update on the development of the key situations in social work research


The Association Network Key Situations in Social Work aims to support reflection on and discourse of key situations in social work and for this purpose operates the platform and coordinates activities of its members in the network. It was founded in 2015 and It is a not for profit charitable organisation under Swiss law and has its head office in Basel, Switzerland.

Membership in the Association Network Key Situations in Social Work is open to all persons and organisations wishing to promote discourse and reflection on key social work situations. Members of the association are active in the network and promote the association's interests.

The Association supports universities and practice organisations to adapt and implement the Key Situation Reflection model and platform in their education and continuous professional development programmes. It offers training for reflection group facilitators and supports organisations in making the best use of the platform. We have almost 10 years’ experience and can advise on the benefits and challenges of adopting the Key Situation model!

We are convinced that the Association with its platform and network will transform the way social workers and organisations can integrate theory, research, ethics and practice through reflective practice, communities of practice working on key themes within and across organisations, access to co-produced knowledge embedded in real social work situations and discourse on the quality of the practice and knowledge of such situations. Together we will develop enhanced and shared practice-based understandings of good social work practice!

Board members

Adi Staempfli, MSc, co-president– Lecturer in social work at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.

Dr. Regula Kunz, co-president – Head of BA in social work, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland.

Dr. Eva Tov, board member - Associate lecturer and researcher in social work international freelancer, Israel.

Stefan Eugster Stamm, board member - Social Work Manager of a third sector organisation, associate lecturer, Switzerland.

Dominik Tschopp, MA, board member - E-Learning Coordinator / Research Associate, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland.

Gaby Merten, board member - Independent registered supervisor and coach, associate lecturer, Switzerland.

Tatjana Kreitmeier, board member - Social Worker, Germany.


1. [TOV, E., KUNZ, R. & STÄMPFLI, A. 2016. Schlüsselsituationen der Sozialen Arbeit. Professionalität durch Wissen, Reflexion und Diskurs in Communities of Practice, 2nd revised ed., Bern, hep.]

2. [MARKAUSKAITE, L. & GOODYEAR, P. 2017:49. Epistemic Fluency and Professional Education: Innovation, Knowledgeable Action and Actionable Knowledge, Dordrecht, Springer.(URL)]

3. [TREVITHICK, P. 2011:140. The generalist versus specialist debate in social work education in the UK. In: LISHMAN, J. (ed.) Social Work Education. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.(URL)]

4. [MUNRO, E. 2011. The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report. A child-centered system. London: Departement of Education.]

5. [ROMEO, L. 2016. Teaching partnerships are forging the future of social work. Blog. Available from URL]

6. [JANG, K. 2013. An Understanding of Optimal Knowledge Management for Social Work Practice: Based on a Process-Oriented Conceptualisation of Knowledge Integration. British Journal of Social Work, 43, 1364–1383. URL]

7. [FENWICK, T., NERLAND, M. & JENSEN, K. 2012. Sociomaterial approaches to conceptualising professional learning and practice. Journal of Education and Work, 25, 1-13. URL]

8. [STAEMPFLI, A., KUNZ, R. & TOV, E. 2012. Creating a bridge between theory and practice: working with key situations. European Journal of Social Education, 22/23, 60-78. URL]

9. [TOV, E., KUNZ, R. & STÄMPFLI, A. 2016. Schlüsselsituationen der Sozialen Arbeit. Professionalität durch Wissen, Reflexion und Diskurs in Communities of Practice,2nd revised ed., Bern, hep. URL]

10. [WENGER, E. 1998. Communities of practice. Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: University Press.]

11. [STAEMPFLI, A., TOV, E., KUNZ, R. & TSCHOPP, D. 2016. Improving professionalism through reflection and discourse in communities of practice: The key situations in social work model and project. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 14, (2), 59-79. URL]