Using intuition in social work decision making

Alessandro Sicora, Brian Taylor, Ravit Alfandari, Guy Enosh, Duncan Helm, Campbell Killick, Olive Lyons, Judith Mullineux, Jaroslaw Przeperski, Michael Rölver, Andrew Whittaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
153 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)772-787
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number5
Early online date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank our other colleagues in the Decisions, Assessment and Risk Special Interest Group of the European Social Work Research Association for their inspiration and encouragement.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • decision making
  • assessment
  • intuition
  • professional judgment
  • Reasoning under uncertainty
  • risk
  • social work


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