Balancing Tools and Professional Judgment

1.  Assessment tools do not make decisions.
2.  People make decisions.
3.  Assessments can help people make better     

NCCD staff stress these three points when training social workers to use Structured Decision Making® (SDM) assessments. Combining professional judgment with valid, reliable assessment tools results in better decisions at key points in a child welfare or adult protection case than using only one or the other.

This combination—judgment and tools—is ideal in many settings. For example:

A rock climber with personal skills and judgment gained through experience can climb. But climbing without equipment (tools) may result in more serious injuries if the climber takes a fall. Conversely, a well-equipped climber with no climbing experience may not get off the ground.

A doctor may be able to diagnose a patient based on professional judgment and experience alone, without using medical tests. However, the patient could have something else with similar symptoms but the need for different treatment. If a doctor looks only at test results and neglects using his or her judgment, important symptoms or other clues may be missed.

In social work, too much reliance on professional judgment may keep a worker from considering important factors due to implicit bias or other reasons. Relying too heavily on assessment tools may keep a worker from evaluating factors that could impact the decision but are not included on the assessment tool.

For more on the SDM® model, visit our website.

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