Using intuition in social work decision making



Sicora A, Taylor BJ, Alfandari R, Enosh G, Helm D, Killick C, Lyons O, Mullineux J, Przeperski J, Rölver M & Whittaker A (2021) Using intuition in social work decision making. European Journal of Social Work, 24 (5), pp. 772-787.

Social workers must make ‘justifiable’ decisions, but ‘intuition’ is also important in assessment, decision making and working with risk. We discuss intuition within professional judgement as being part of our cognitive faculties; emotionally-informed reasoning processes connecting workers with clients and families; and intuition making use of internalised learning. Challenges discussed include intuition as a taboo topic; communicating intuition-based judgements within group decision processes; and lack of models for integrating intuition with explicit use of knowledge. To develop the professional knowledge base on professional judgement, the paper considers six theoretical frameworks which might be used to conceptualise intuition within social work decision making, including: (1) the ‘tacit knowledge’ of sociological discourse; (2) intuition as ‘sense-making’; (3) internalisation of learning; (4) conceptual schemas from neuroscience; (5) Kahneman’s ‘thinking fast and slow’; and (6) decision heuristics. Intuition is discussed in the context of supervision and organisational governance; use of assessment tools and processes; creation of mental models for practice; implications for education and training; and further research. Although the profession must continue to develop its ability to use the best knowledge to inform practice, a psycho-social rationality model may be required to conceptualise internalised ‘intuitive’ judgement processes in practice.

Assessment; decision making; intuition; professional judgement; reasoning

European Journal of Social Work: Volume 24, Issue 5

Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online01/06/2021
Date accepted by journal29/05/2021

People (1)


Dr Duncan Helm
Dr Duncan Helm

Senior Lecturer, Social Work