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 continuous professional development and education. At it's heart is a reflective learning process organised around key situations in social work and a virtual platform that enables blended learning, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Key situations are the typical, regularly encountered practice situations that social workers describe as significant. They are experienced as discrete practice situations with a beginning, middle and an end, such as a home visit1. The model aims to support ongoing learning, the development of a learning culture, and debate about quality in practice situations. The model can be adapted to suit your organisation or university.

  • Circle
    Reflective learning and knowledge co-production

    The Key Situation model has grown out of a need to enhance the way professionals 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. The eight-step reflection process aims to support the development of both analytic and intuitive skills. Unlike other reflection methods, the Key Situation approach offers a blended learning approach in which the knowledge that is co-produced is documented and shared with other learners and social workers within and across organisations.

  • 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 practice-based collaborative learning. It can be implemented in a team, an organisation or in practice and university partnerships. Communities of practice within and across organisations thus develop key themes and approaches to support individual, organisational and professional learning.

  • Screens
    Access to situated knowledge for social workers

    The Key Situation platform supports learning, collaboration and knowledge sharing. We know that investing in access to knowledge alone does not lead to its integration in professional decision-making6. To enhance integration of knowledge, practice and ethics, an approach is needed that pays attention to both technical-material tools and social practices7. The platform allows documentation of knowledge, experience and reflections in relation to situations that can be easily accessed by practitioners. It combines this with models for collaboration for learning, knowledge and practice development in organisations and for sharing and discussing this situated knowledge across organisations and internationally8. The platform is run by the Association Network Key Situations in Social Work.

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    What are the key situations in English social work practice?

    The model was originally developed in Switzerland with a description of the key situations in Swiss social work and social pedagogy. It is now applied in universities in German speaking regions in Europe. To adapt it for English social work, a Delphi study with experienced social workers is in its final stages. It aims to describe the key situations for English social work. So far, 13 social workers have contributed to the initial development of 104 situation titles. These have been reviewed by 88 social workers in a first online survey round. Of the 104 situations, 55 were accepted as key situations and 14 situations were rejected. In a final survey round a total of 89 situations will be reviewed. The results will be published on the key situation paltform.

Reflective Learning Process

The Key Situation reflective learning model9, guides learners through eight steps. They describe an experienced situation (1), link it to a key situation title (2), tease out the emotion and reflection-in-action (3) and elaborate the overarching characteristics of such situations (4). General knowledge (theoretical, research and ethical knowledge) and specific knowledge (experiential, 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.

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. The merging of knowledge and practice is enabled through identification of knowledge resources and thinking about their relevance to the situation:

Fusing of different forms of knowledge

Unlike other reflection models, it is an in-depth learning process that involves many activities over several sessions. It blends face to face with online learning. This model can be applied in social work education and CPD in university and practice settings.

Continuous Professional Development

Professional competence is influenced by both an individual and their practice environment. Competence is the potential a person brings to a situation, which is demonstrated in performance in specific practice situations within a social environment that facilitates or hinders competent performance. To develop and sustain professional expertise, professionals need to be able to engage in practice and deliberative reflection about that practice. The Key Situation approach to CPD is built on ongoing reflective learning that seeks to enhance individual and organisational (knowledge) resources thus enhancing individuals' professionality, identity and competence and at the same time supporting the development of a learning culture through communities of practice:

Continuous professional development

The model enables not only development of expertise but crucially, also the integration of new research, evidence, changes in the legal or 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 and to influence their thinking and actions in similar practice situations.

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

Key Situation Platform / Knowledge Sharing

Teams or organisations who reflect on and document their own key situations capture knowledge and practice that is relevant to their setting and make it accessible to old and new staff members and students alike. The Key Situation platform supports teams and organisations to share situated knowledge and this enables discussion about the quality of the practice and knowledge within and across the organisation. This open approach to sharing of knowledge aims to support a learning culutre.

Key situation titles offer a practice-based categorisation of knowledge and practice. Our own research has shown that social workers can associatively identify relevant situations to plan, reflect on, or learn about practice challenges, for example when thinking about a home visit. You can find an example of a situation completed by a newly qualified social worker here (pdf).

Continuous professional development

The platform was developed between 2014 and 2016 in a research and development project in Siwtzerland. It is operated by the Association Network Key Situations in Social Work whose vision is to create a Wikipedia of social work situations. 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’ and ‘Terms of Use’ to safeguard both platform user data and data in relation to social work situations. Only anonymised situations are published.

The German language spaces on the Key Situation platform have around 1500 users. It is planned to develop an English space in 2020.

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 and reflective learning,

• organisations and universities arrange learning and knowledge sharing 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 in implementing this model in your organisation, then perhaps we can consider how to design this, so that it meets the your organisation's needs and those of social workers and others in your organisation. Just drop me an email ( and we can start a converstion.

Do you want to find out more? 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 and 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.

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

Prof. Dr. Annette Vogt, co-president – Professor of psychology, Katholische Stiftungshochschule München, University of Applied Sciences, Munich, Germany.

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]