This event brought together participants from across various Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) in order to engage in knowledge exchange learning as well as enhance participants' skills in community engagement and collaborative action.
Problems and Purpose
The aim of this 2-day event was to bring together participants from across a number of Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) which constitute all the services that come together to take part in community planning. The purpose of the collaboration was to develop a fledgling Community of Practice amongst the participants. The event expressly aimed to achieve the following outcomes:
- To understand and influence national-level learning emerging from the What Works Scotland work with the four CPPs involved.
- To increase participant’s understanding of the Collaborative Action Research/Collaborative Inquiry process being led by WWS.
- To identify facilitators and barriers to implementing changes in CPPs as a result of local work with WWS.
- To exchange learnings about the local work being done with WWS by fellow practitioners working throughout the CPPs.
- Intensive training to enhance participants' skills in community engagement and collaboration.
The event also sought to ensure partners understand and can influence what WWS is starting to learn from their work with the partners. The event included training on facilitation skills; evaluation methods; and spread and scale by members of the WWS team, and knowledge that will enrich community engagement. There was also a range of dynamic, innovative activities, some co-produced with the participants themselves.
Background History and Context
In February 2016, What Works Scotland brought together public service and third sector practitioners from across its four CPP case site partners to discuss work-to-date and emerging themes from the WWS Collaborative Action Research workstream (CAR). WWS invited selected participants who were active and key to the progress of the WWS Collaborative Action Research work. WWS also informed participants in advance that the event was designed to achieve particular learning outcomes that were core to developing the CAR approach, supporting participants' local inquiry work, and achieving the wider WWS project objectives. At the event itself, each presented four times to other participants. All participants were given time away from work to attend the event.
CAR is a means by which academics support practitioners to design and conduct research relevant to their work context. The underpinning rationale of CAR is that practitioners have ownership of the research process and conduct the study and report on their findings; in this case they were supported by the WWS researchers. CAR is not prescriptive; it is an overarching framework that can draw on a wide range of research methods. Although CAR is currently popular in education and nursing and has been tried in public policy partnerships in England, the WWS CAR workstream was the first time that CAR has been attempted in such complex multi-agency partnerships.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The project was undertaken by What Works Scotland, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Scottish Government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
WWS invited selected participants who were active and key to the progress of the CAR work in the four partner sites. Twenty-one practitioners working for local authorities, housing associations, third sector organisations, and health services participated in the process. Eight WWS staff from the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus two PhD students attached to WWS, were involved in organising, facilitating, presenting and recording the event. Some participants had to leave early for childcare or travel purposes and missed the latter session; this was a learning point for WWS as it increasingly co-produces events and seeks to reduce barriers to participation.
Methods and Tools Used
This event involved a series of workshops and small group discussions.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
At the event, the WWS Research Associates devised an innovative visual graphic to convey the geographical reach of the four CPPs, and the breadth of the dozen or more CAR projects that are being facilitated by WWS which sought to encourage practitioners to take a step back and position their localised CAR work within the national picture. Each case site then presented a case concurrently so that the practitioners could learn from each other in more detail. The WWS team then asked if there were any deeper themes spanning the four presentations, including deeper drivers and barriers to CAR in multi-agency partnerships. Participants then moved tables to discuss the theme that most resonated with them.
During the workshop on CAR, participants discussed the model and reflected on the approaches they were taking locally. Positions on the process varied within and across the four CPPs; sometimes the model was explicitly expressed, sometimes implied. However, despite these differences, there were the following commonalities across the groups:
- Developing a CAR approach allows groups of officers to work together who otherwise would not. This cultivates relationships across those involved from different CPP partners, including the third sector.
- CAR groups put work into a wider context, allowing space for reflection and to consider day jobs through a different lens, whilst offering the opportunity to experience new ways of working.
- CAR groups help practitioners to reconsider existing data or evidence via evidence review, and gather new evidence where needed through evidence-generation.
- CAR groups can effectively work on relatively small issues or on a small scale, enabling faster buy-in and quicker results.
- Carving out the time necessary to conduct CAR properly, and to come to group meetings was a persistent tension. Some officers struggled to be able to fully commit to the process.
- Getting commitment to CAR from the senior management team of the CPP and ultimately elected members is a barrier in some sites: a culture change is required.
- The external support provided by WWS, particularly the WWS Research Associates strongly supports the CAR process. This includes the design and delivery of research skills; capacity support for the variety of individual staff involved; supporting the project management of CAR groups; facilitation; and sometimes advocacy.
At the event's end, participants completed anonymized evaluation forms. They were also emailed to those that left before the end, with a total of 18 out of 21 completed; notably the emailed evaluations were more fully completed than those undertaken at the event.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Fife: The group identified the need to share more widely and communicate with key senior practitioners in their workplace. Some of the practitioners wrote a blog when they returned to Fife, and an associated paper which they presented at the Fife Partnership Executive Group shortly after the CAR, and information from the event was also added to the Knowledge-Hub group. The policy team wrote a short piece about the CAR work in Fife Community Planning Partnership newsletter to assist them in recruiting new members, and generally highlight and communicate the WWS work across their area. Information from the event was also added to the ‘What Works Scotland: Fife’ Knowledge Hub Group, and the policy team wrote a short piece about the CAR work on their intranet and www.fifedirect.org.uk, their website.
West Dunbartonshire: Following the event, reflections on the discussions and insights from Perth were shared in CAR group meetings.
Glasgow: After the event, insights were shared in CAR group meetings, and participants emailed each other to consider what further actions to take in terms of collectively influencing the CPP.
Aberdeenshire: The group highlighted the value of the space for reflection across the two days and key shared learning on the role of the third sector; the importance of building a core group; and seeking to work outside of ‘silos’ and build up local partnerships. In order to share their learning more widely across Aberdeenshire CPP, Health and Social Care Partnership and third sector networks — and likewise WWS networks — they generated a ‘Piktochart’ after the event to capture their experiences.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Although it appears resource heavy on the surface, the CAR approach provides a good model to drive through public service reform and develop new evidence-informed initiatives. There is a need for leadership and managerial support across CPP partners to both allow their staff to work in this planned way, using and generating evidence in groups together, and to create the conditions for spread and sustainability of outcomes. Facilitative leadership and the development of skills in research and reflective practice can support cross-CPP Communities of Practice to increasingly improve how they work with evidence, and each other.
Practitioners consistently claim that allowing time and space to reflect and plan is an essential contribution to public service reform. This is particularly true in contexts which inherently constitute multiple public services, third sector organisations, and community groups, each of which contains diverse and changing individuals who must work out how to collaborate effectively. Communication between individuals, partners, and agencies requires respectful consideration and time investment to ensure that partnerships develop which enable dialogue and deliberation, better shared working, and space for effective contributions.
Developing these relationships is worthwhile, because CPPs may have unique topics, priorities and problems, but they have common challenges. Each CPP is a complex mixture of small and large projects, with some common elements and some elements of distinction. In order to overcome these challenges, they need to be allowed to learn from what works and what doesn’t work, how and for whom, as they experiment with new interventions.
What Works Scotland. (2016). What Works Scotland Collaborative Learning Event. http://whatworksscotland.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/National-Event-Report-Feb-2016-Publication.pdf
UK Research and Innovation. (n.d.). What Works Scotland Centre. Accessed 8/23/2020. https://gtr.ukri.org/project/4BD2E36B-79FE-453C-B71C-0B686D04AD4B