Alexander Björk. Foto: Niklas Björling

Alexander Björk


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Works at Department of Social Work
Telephone 08-16 32 43
Visiting address Sveavägen 160, Sveaplan
Room 638
Postal address Institutionen för socialt arbete 106 91 Stockholm

About me

My research interests include standardization, production and use of evidence and assessment instruments within the social services, with particular focus on the substance abuse field. In my dissertation “Evidence-based practice behind the scenes”, I closely analyze a social services agency that has worked extensively for several years at incorporating EBP. Particular attention is payed to the agency’s uses of interventions and instruments that are commonly referred to as ‘evidence-based’. The dissertation problematizes some of the most common 'solutions' within EBP and outlines several ideas regarding how knowledge and evidence use can be enhanced.

Currently, I am working in a research project about standardized documentation and local follow up within the social services. In addition to developing new knowledge about the social services’ daily documentation work, this project also seeks to use this knowledge in creating standardization that is more suitable for this kind of work.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2017. Alexander Björk. Socialvetenskaplig tidskrift 24 (3-4), 303-313

    The past two decades have witnessed an increased demand for standardized documentation within the social services field. This have resulted in the proliferation, translation and attempt to use various kinds of standardized instruments to document clients’ needs and outcomes of interventions. Reviewing the social work literature on standardized instruments and providing empirical examples, this article identifies a widespread unsystematic use in everyday practice. This seriously undermines the ability to use gathered information to make reliable quantitative analyses of clients’ outcomes. Based on the concept of ‘situated standardization’ the article argues for a new direction in the attempts to standardize documentation within the social services. Rather than developing standardized instruments outside the social services context, as in current efforts, situated standardization points to the need to develop instruments from within this context. This would arguably produce instruments better suited for the preconditions of social services’ work, and therefore easier to use systematically. Thus, rather than a ‘light’ standardization, this can be described as a different kind of standardization situated in the actual work of the social services. An important implication is that standardized instruments need to be developed together with a close empirical examination of the setting in which it is supposed to be used.

  • 2018. Alexander Björk. Nordic Social Work Research

    This paper seeks to provide an empirically grounded discussion of the critical appraisal model of Evidence-based practice (EBP) in social work practice. Studying real-time treatment decisions, the paper looks ethnographically at an attempt to implement critical appraisal in everyday social work practice, and problematizes some of the assumptions underlying this idea. Whereas critical appraisal tends to view treatment decisions as clear-cut events emanating from autonomous social workers, participant observation shows that decisions emerge over time and are ‘organizational’ rather than individual. Drawing on the notion of ‘logic of care’ and findings from studies of organizational decision-making, a more practice oriented understanding of treatment decision-making is outlined.

  • 2016. Alexander Björk. Evidence & Policy 12 (1), 53-71

    In discussions and empirical investigations of the implementation of evidence-based interventions there is often a narrow focus on treatment fidelity. Studying a social services agency trying to incorporate Motivational Interviewing (MI), commonly regarded as evidence-based, this paper problematises a one-sided attention to treatment fidelity by showing how non-fidelity can be constructive from an organisational perspective. While treatment fidelity is one important aspect, it is argued that there might be other rationales to take into account when implementing evidence-based interventions in professional practices.

  • 2016. Alexander Björk (et al.).

    The aim of this dissertation is to examine empirically what Evidence-based practice (EBP) and its standardized procedures become when put into practice in social work. EBP builds on the idea that professional practice should be based on systematic and reliable knowledge of the interventions and instruments used in this work. This implies a standardization of both research and practice that has been highly contested. Inspired by works within science and technology studies (STS), this dissertation analyses the actual content of the standardized procedures and their uses in social work practice.

    The dissertation examines a ‘critical case’, a substance abuse social services agency that has worked extensively for several years at implementing EBP, and consists of four papers focusing on three standardized procedures used by the agency in order to enact EBP: 1) the Addiction severity index (ASI) assessment instrument; 2) the psychosocial intervention Motivational interviewing, and 3) the decision-making model Critical appraisal (CA). Ethnographic methods were employed to study the agency’s concrete uses of the standardized procedures in daily practice. MI was also followed in the research literature as it became established as an ‘evidence-based’ intervention.

    Fundamentally, the development of the standards of EBP can be a messy and paradoxical process. In the stabilization of MI, its differences and ‘fluidity’ have eventually been made to disappear and left a stable ‘evidence-based’ object.

    Findings from the ethnographic studies show that EBP, as enacted in the agency’s daily practice, is a bureaucratic project where the agency’s managers have decided on and control the use of a set of standards. Thus, what constitutes relevant evidence is based not on professional discussion within the agency but is ultimately determined by the managers.

    In practice, the standards introduce new logics that cause tensions within the agency, tensions which the social workers are left to handle. Main conflicts concern how the client work is ordered and contradictory organizational rationales. The three standards are used to varying extent, which can be understood by examining what they seek to standardize and how they are put to work. CA was not used at all, mainly due to its design. Disregarding organizational rationales that are unavoidable within the social services, it could not be adapted to the agency’s work. With ASI and MI the situation was different, mostly because of their organizational adaptability. ASI could be implemented in several phases of the agency’s work flow resulting in adjustments of both the instrument and the work flow. As a ‘fluid intervention’, MI was constrained by, but also adjustable to the organization. It was thus possible for both ASI and MI to transform and be transformed by pre-existing practices, in effect creating new practices.

    A major conclusion is that EBP and its standardized procedures is a more dynamic and multifaceted process than previously acknowledged in social work. Rather than a deterministic one-way path, there are different kinds, degrees, and mutual transformations of standardization processes, which must be appreciated in research and in practical efforts to implement EBP. Given the importance of the organization in professional social work, there is a need to move away from individualistic conceptions of EBP and to consider what evidence use might mean from an organizational perspective.

  • 2014. Alexander Björk. Addiction Research and Theory 22 (4), 313-324

    Introduced in 1983, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is now widely regarded as an efficacious psychosocial intervention in the addiction treatment field. Drawing on research literature, this article asks how this was achieved. Contrary to common conceptions of the dissemination of psychosocial interventions within the addiction treatment field, this analysis takes neither MI's identity nor its efficacy to be inherent qualities, but sees them as being constructed by various actors. This construction work is described as stabilizing processes. Being loosely structured and flexible, it is suggested that MI can be regarded as a fluid intervention. This has presented difficulties for its subsequent stabilization. As MI has been differently operationalized in clinical trials, it was not obvious at first to talk about the efficacy of MI as a single object of concern in systematical reviews and meta-analyses. The article discusses some of the complexities involved in the production and dissemination of efficacious psychosocial interventions. Compared with other cases, MI displays a somewhat different mode of stabilization. It is argued that MI has been stabilized enough to be considered an efficacious intervention while simultaneously incorporating fluidity, which makes it useful in a wide range of clinical settings.

  • 2013. Alexander Björk. Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 30 (3), 179-199

    AIM - This article explores the implementation and use of the Addiction Severity Index in addiction treatment practice, both as a clinical instrument and as a way of facilitating outcome measurement. This is regarded as incorporating laboratory logic into clinical practice characterised by the logic of care. DATA - The data is based on ethnographic fieldwork in a Swedish metropolitan social service agency known for its systematic ASI work. RESULTS - The findings suggest that much effort must be dedicated to co-ordinate activities in the agency in line with the laboratory logic, making sure that the interviews are administered systematically. In use, the ASI and the variables in clinical practice are adjusted to each other, making it possible to follow both logics at the same time. In some cases, however, there is a conflict: the ASI becomes an extra task that does not further the clinical work. Once collected, the ASI data must be co-ordinated in line with other information. This has not yet been realised in the agency, which makes the value of the ASI data unknown. CONCLUSIONS - It requires hard work to handle the two logics simultaneously in addiction treatment practice: activities must be co-ordinated, and instruments and variables in clinical practice must be continuously tinkered with. Further, outcome measurement is not only about systematic use of standardised instruments, but much work must be done after the ASI data has been collected.

Show all publications by Alexander Björk at Stockholm University

Last updated: April 18, 2019

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