Heuristics in Professional Judgement: A Psycho-Social Rationality Model

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There is increasing attention to decision making in social work as we become more concerned about ‘risk’ and the most effective design of assessment tools to aid professional judgement. In order to develop practice, a better conceptual understanding is required of the cognitive processes in making these judgements. This paper explores the potential use of heuristic (small-scale, ‘rule-of-thumb’) models of cognitive judgement in social work, recognising that human beings (including social work professionals) cannot simultaneously process large numbers of factors with associated statistical weightings. This paper discusses heuristic models of professional judgement based on a proposed concept of psychosocial rationality. Such heuristic models would take account of the psychosocial environment in which the decision is being made as well as of the cognitive processes of the decision maker. The potential application to professional judgement in social work is discussed with reference to examples of various types of social work decision. Potential issues in developing and adopting this theoretical approach in practice are raised – including legal dimensions and potential bias - and the implications for social work research are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1043-1060
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date9 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2017


  • Assessment
  • decision making
  • decision theory
  • evidence-based practice
  • professional judgement
  • reflective practice
  • risk
  • risk assessment
  • social work.


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