Beyond “Common Sense”: The Role of Local Knowledge in Youth Residential Treatmentedit
Social work scholars have challenged the reliance on so-called “common sense” to guide clinical practice. This article reports findings from an ethnographic study of knowledge use and decision making in a residential treatment center (RTC) for children. Specifically, it asks what knowledge informs the everyday practice of mental health workers and analyzes participants’ assertions that expert practice requires the possession of what they refer to as “common sense.” Approximately 1,560 hours of participant observation and 36 semistructured interviews were conducted with 78 consenting mental health workers at the participating RTC. Participants reported that they valued and relied on common sense in their everyday practice and emphasized it in assessments of others’ expertise. They described common sense as a natural quality of individuals, not learnable through professional education or on-the-job training. These assertions that practice expertise requires common sense obscure a rich body of local knowledge that workers drew on in practice. Common sense is more accurately understood as site-specific local knowledge calibrated to the unique demands of the organization. Further study of the character and transmission of local knowledge may inform social work research, education, and practice with implications for models of clinical decision making and knowledge transfer within and between organizations.