Establishing and maintaining relationships and ways of connecting and being with others is an important component of health and wellbeing. Harnessing the relational within caring, supportive, educational, or carceral settings as a systems response has been referred to as relational practice. Practitioners, people with lived experience, academics and policy makers, do not yet share a well-defined common understanding of relational practice. Consequently, there is potential for interdisciplinary and interagency miscommunication, as well as the risk of policy and practice being increasingly disconnected. Comprehensive reviews are needed to support the development of a coherent shared understanding of relational practice.
This study uses a scoping review design providing a scope and synthesis of extant literature relating to relational practice focussing on organisational and systemic practice. The review aimed to map how relational practice is used, defined and understood across health, criminal justice, education and social work, noting any impacts and benefits reported. Searches were conducted on 8 bibliographic databases on 27 October 2021. English language articles were included that involve/discuss practice and/or intervention/s that prioritise interpersonal relationships in service provision, in both external (organisational contexts) and internal (how this is received by workers and service users) aspects.
A total of 8010 relevant articles were identified, of which 158 met the eligibility criteria and were included in the synthesis. Most were opinion-based or theoretical argument papers (n = 61, 38.60%), with 6 (3.80%) critical or narrative reviews. A further 27 (17.09%) were categorised as case studies, focussing on explaining relational practice being used in an organisation or a specific intervention and its components, rather than conducting an evaluation or examination of the effectiveness of the service, with only 11 including any empirical data. Of the included empirical studies, 45 were qualitative, 6 were quantitative, and 9 mixed methods studies. There were differences in the use of terminology and definitions of relational practice within and across sectors.
Although there may be implicit knowledge of what relational practice is the research field lacks coherent and comprehensive models. Despite definitional ambiguities, a number of benefits are attributed to relational practices.
- Relational practice
- Enabling environments
- Rational approach
- social care