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Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Research Activities


The main topics of the research activities are:

Child and Youth Welfare 
This area includes topics such as child protection, out-of-home care, outpatient care, care leaving, district social work, children's rights, and children and adolescents as victims of crime. 
Aging, Care, Diversity, Gender and Migration 
This area deals with the consequences and requirements associated with demographic change, which have a significant impact on the development of the social services sector. Central topics include the aging of society, migration and the increase in cultural diversity, gender roles and generational relations, as well as the management, organization and financing of care and care work. 
Social Policy, Innovation in the Social Sector, Social Security and Participation 
This focus area includes the proactive design of local social policy, integrative social planning and participatory monitoring of these areas, with particular attention to integrated and socio-spatial approaches to action and the promotion of civil society involvement. 

Research Report unibz

The new Research Report (pag. 73-76) of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano illustrates the fields of research, a selection of cooperations, scientific awards and new members among the teaching staff.

CARE- Designing sustainable care provision for South Tyrol's future

CARE- Designing sustainable care provision for South Tyrol's future

Research Team: Weissensteiner, A., Viganò, F., Paone, N., Cavrini, G., Loch, U., Cisotto, E., Tappeiner, G.

Duration: 2021-2023

Partners: Representatives of the Association of Residences for the Elderly in South Tyrol, Sanitary Service

Funding: Autonomous Province of Bolzano

Summary: In recent years, due to demographic change and the socio-economic context, the question of a future orientation of care provision has become increasingly acute. In order to find a workable solution for South Tyrol, care organisation and care financing must be considered together. A viable concept must consider the existing and planned care services and care facilities, the wishes, and ideas of the South Tyrolean population as well as the various forms of financing.
Many of the related questions have socio-political and distributional implications. Only if these circumstances are sufficiently taken into account a financing instrument will be able to achieve what the South Tyrolean population rightly expects from it. The fact that there are different approaches to care provision in OECD countries shows that there probably is no "best model". Therefore, there is a need for a project with the claim to work out proposals based on local conditions and to show their strengths and weaknesses. Based on scientifically valid data and proposed solutions, democratically legitimised politicians can then make informed decisions.

Goal: The aim of the project is to evaluate current social practices in South Tyrol to secure long-term care measures. The following study focuses in particular on long-term care provision in South Tyrol for people aged 60 years and over.
Results: The data concerning costs were collected from residential homes for the elderly, other services in care, home care, home nursing; within a questionnaire the needs of family caregivers, the consequences of demographic development, scenarios, and their financial consequences as well as care models in Europe were analysed. Finally, visions for the prevention and organisation of care were elaborated.

PEACHES (Participation in Early Childhood Educational Services)

PEACHES (Participation in Early Childhood Educational Services)

Research Team: Laura Trott (PI) & Sabine Tiefenthaler

Project duration: 12 months (05.22 - 04.23)

Partners: Elena Martorana (practice researcher of La Strada-the Way) & Family Agency of the Land

Funding: internal funding

Summary: The PEACHES study deals with the development and continuity of contacts with families with refugee and migration experiences in institutions for families with young children from different perspectives.
Data collection: In the project presented here, the entire process was designed and carried out by a participatory research group consisting of two academic researchers and one practice researcher of open services for families with young children. Data collection was carried out using different qualitative methods, such as participant observation and focus groups.

Participants: A total of 85 early childhood professionals (early childhood services, ELKIs and other low-threshold services for families with young children) with the following professional backgrounds participated in the focus groups: early childhood education and care, social work, social pedagogy and psychology. In addition, the participants had different roles such as directors, coordinators, childcare workers and educators. The participants came from both rural and urban areas of South Tyrol.
Data analysis: The data material was analyzed according to the constructivist Grounded Theory (KGT) (Charmaz 2014). Charmaz (2014) emphasizes the involvement of the co-researchers and affirms that the emerging theory is based on co-constructed knowledge building due to this approach.

Results: Through the data analysis, the following dimensions of shaping and maintaining contact with families with refugee and migration experiences could be elaborated:

  • language and communication
  • social capital and social support
  • cooperation and collaboration with different actors

Furthermore, a brochure for professionals on the topic of equal participation of all families in early childhood services was developed together with the participants. The brochure presents best-practice examples on the topics of communication, building trust, cooperation with different actors and creating an inclusive attitude. The findings from the focus groups were related to current findings from science and links to important topics are provided.

Professionalization, Transition and Autonomy in outreach socio-pedagogical family services – PTA

Professionalization, Transition and Autonomy in outreach socio-pedagogical family services - PTA 

Research Team: Ulrike Loch (PI) & Sabine Tiefenthaler

Projektdauer: 42 Monate (08.22 – 12.25)

Partner: Bezirksgemeinschaften Südtirols und Einrichtungen des Dritten Sektors
Finanzierung: interne Finanzierung

Summary: The research project named "Professionalization, Transition and Autonomy - PTA" of the Competence Center of Social Work and Social Policy of the Free University of Bolzano has the goal to investigate processes of autonomy development of families in the context of the outreach socio-pedagogical family service in South Tyrol. [Aufsuchende sozialpädagische Familienarbeit, Educativa domiciliale]. It is a service of basic socio-pedagogical care, coordinated by the social service and carried out in cooperation with social pedagogues from the districts or the third sector (e.g., EOS, La strada, Südtiroler Kinderdorf).

Goals: The general aim of the study is to identify patterns of autonomy development of the families supported by the outreach socio-pedagogical family service. Derived from this, the following three aspects, which cannot be considered independently of each other, are focused on:

  1. Professionalization: The aim is to investigate the relationship between the quality of service, the training of professionals, and the design of the service and resources and their impact on autonomy development.
  2. Transition: The aim is the exploration of transitions from supported adolescents into adulthood. Resources and barriers to the autonomy development of adolescents will be examined.
  3. Cooperation/Network: The aim is to understand in which cooperation/networks the service is involved, and which impact these cooperation/networks have on the autonomy development of families.
    Study design: A participatory approach means that the project is developed and effected in collaboration between actors from the scientific field (unibz) and practice (social districts, third sector). It can be defined as a collaboration between the Competence centre and the social districts and the third sector, where the University is the project leader but will consider the ideas and expert-knowledge of the field from the named actors in order to be able to develop the most effective way to implement the research project. Within the research project
    – ethnographic observations.
    – open interviews in single settings with professionals, parents and minors will be conducted at different stages of the support process of the families,
    – focus groups with different professionals;
    – age-appropriate methods for involving adolescents (community mapping, photovoice) will be used.

Through this broad research approach and an iterative research process, the everyday practice of outreach socio-pedagogical family services become observable in its range. The research data will be anonymized and later analyzed with qualitative evaluation methods. The results will be made available for professional of practice as well as published scientifically.

DICO II - Digital Communication

DICO II - Digital Communication

Duration: 2022

Research Team: Lintner Claudia, Zadra Franca

Funding: internal

Summary: The research project DICO II analyses the possibilities offered by new technologies for the methodological development of social work (social work, social pedagogy). The research project focuses on low-threshold social work (e.g., street work). The aim of the research project is to better understand how technological innovations are used in everyday work to make the service more accessible. Furthermore, the project investigates the impact that the use of new technologies has on the theoretical and methodological development of the disciplines. Description of the services to be provided: The appointee will be required to: 1. conduct a literature review focusing on the methodological and theoretical development of the re-digitalisation of social work, 2. recruit potential interviews, 3. conduct 20 narrative interviews with professionals and users, 4. transcribe the interviews, 5. produce a summary including the research protocol for all interviews, 6. produce a project report including key findings from the interviews and literature review.

DICO III – Digital Communication: Processes of digitalisation against gender violence

Team: Ulrike Loch (PI) Claudia Lintner (Co-PI), Franca Zadra (Researcher)

Duration: 20/09/2023 – 31/12/2023

Partner: Informal collaboration with DIRE – Donne in Rete, network of antiviolence centers

Funding: Internal

Objectives: Develop specific knowledge on the transformations that current processes of digitalization bring to the problem of violence against women.
Develop the concept of digital outreach social work, in the new field of violence against women. Develop a reflection with practitioners about digital practice methodologies that are currently being used, (locally and throughout the national network) the obstacles they encounter, making a thorough needs assessment in terms of infrastructure, networks, resources and competences.
Setting the stage for a more structured and participative project proposal for 2024. 

Data collection: A literature review and 15 interviews with antiviolence centers and experts would focus on the following research questions:

  1. In what ways has the phenomenon of violence against women become digitized? 
  2. What digital or hybrid intervention strategies and methodologies are targeted social services enacting to respond to these changes?
  3. What modes of multiagency linkage and mutual learning between practitioners from different organizations, with other local actors and stakeholders, and between different territories could be facilitated by digital instances of joint training or shared problematization?

Expected results: 

Report on literature and interviews

Literature will be selected and thematically organized for the final report. Interviews would be transcribed when recorded, or copious notes taken when consent for recording is not granted. In any case, interviews will be anonymized, and their content will be summarized in the final report. Thematic analysis will allow us to identify emerging topics of particular interest.

Webinar for the DIRE Network

In coordination with the DIRE Network, after the report is handed in, in 2024 a Webinar might be organized with the DIRE network at a national level, to represent the collective voice of antiviolence centers, foster reflexivity on the need of digital upskilling, to better manage the risks and opportunities that digital technologies offer in the efforts against gender violence, and hopefully to foster new potential collaborations on this matter.

Il mondo della vita di bambini/e e adolescenti in Alto Adige – una ricerca partecipativa

The life world of children and adolescents in South Tyrol - a participatory research project

Team: Ulrike Loch (PI) & Daria Forlenza with contributions from Johanna Mahr-Slotawa, Sabine Tiefenthaler, Elisabetta Tomazzolli.

Duration: 2022 - 2024

Partners: Third sector organisations, local associations

Financing: Internally financed 

Objective: The project is aimed at understanding the phenomenon of poverty in relation to the meaning of well-being. In particular, the aim of the research is to actively involve children and adolescents as participants in the research and, in this way, to investigate poverty and its social consequences to find answers and strategies that can be outlined according to the needs of the children themselves. The phenomenon of poverty is analysed in its multidimensional nature and because of the interaction of several factors of an economic, social and cultural nature.

Data Collection: The research project uses the participatory research orientation in order to actively involve young people as social actors in the research process.  The data collection involves the use of qualitative methods, including the photovoice method. This method makes it possible to document children's and adolescents' perceptions of the meaning of poverty through the creative use of photography. The photovoice method encourages the exploration of the world and social space and the communication of the respective experiences through the description of the photographs taken. The focus is on the subjective meaning the pictures have for the individual and/or the group. Through group activities such as focus groups or individual conversations the elaboration of the meanings of the pictures taken will be reflected upon.

Expected results: Through interviews and qualitative research activities, the researcher/researcher will collect data that represent a direct testimony of children's and adolescents' views on the meaning of well-being in relation to poverty. Through these meanings the researcher/researcher will have to understand how to rework the meanings in order to produce important social actions to improve children's well-being (educational, social, cultural well-being).

Il ruolo delle famiglie nel Dopo di noi: modelli di intervento fondati sul co-design

The Role of families in Dopo di noi: Co-designed intervention models 

Team: Ulrike Loch (PI) and Giuseppina Signorello (external researcher)

Durata: from 20/09/23 to 31/12/23

Partner: Libera Università Lumsa di Roma, Associazione Lebenshilfe onlus di Bolzano

Funding: internal funding 

Objective: Families of people with disabilities face significant educational, social, and economic challenges. Law No. 112 of 2016, known as the "Dopo di Noi" law, has led to a significant paradigm shift in the production and financing of support for people with disabilities; this shift has led to an integration of processes, actions and resources both by public authorities and third sector organizations, as well as by families. The aim of the research is to investigate how multi-stakeholder and co-creation methods, such as co-design, can create quality experiences in response to the needs of people with disabilities and their families, already in the 'durante noi' phase. The adoption of these approaches in the context of the design of support services for people with disabilities will lead to the improvement of the relationships between all the stakeholders, in the direction of their empowerment, with a better chance of achieving the expected goals (effectiveness and efficiency, exchange of assets, quality of life, satisfaction).

Data collection: The research method is qualitative and specifically involves a desk analysis (search and identification of Italian experiences most relevant to the themes of the study) and a field analysis (in-depth interviews with key witnesses). Narrative interviews conducted through an online platform were used to collect primary data. Secondary data was obtained from external sources such as documents and statistical data, publications, reports, and databases. The type of sample that was used was a representative sample; it involved five Italian organisations.

Expected results: The research work was organized in the form of an exploratory path around two main themes: to study the practices of co-creation and co-design, such as co-design, especially in the field of welfare for the disabled; to present operational tools able to support the implementation paths of co-creation for the "Dopo di noi" framework. In terms of originality (the study helps to introduce new ideas and perspectives on the topic) and practical relevance (for the potential implications, improving policies and intervention practices). This approach has given the research a particular importance. The results of the research are characterised by providing an interpretative framework of the global trends related to the issues studied, together with an operational vision of the model studied.