26 September 2016

Community-led Approaches to Reducing Poverty

WWS Co-Director, Ken Gibb reflects on the recent WWS event in Clydebank Town Hall – a workshop of about 40 people from the public and voluntary sectors, plus a few academics and councillors.  The focus was on reviewing the evidence and practice concerning specifically community-led approaches to reducing poverty.


Ostensibly, this was an opportunity to showcase Richard Crisp (Sheffield Hallam University) who led a team of researchers who carried out a formal evidence review for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Organised and convened by my WWS colleague, Claire Bynner, this was also a chance to share the work with our What Works Scotland case study colleagues in West Dunbartonshire and also hear from other speakers including Bruce White from Glasgow Centre for Population Health. I was the rapporteur at the end of the event.

The first speaker was the deputy leader of West Dunbartonshire who set the tone for the day. He emphasised the priority of effective anti-poverty measures and championed the evidence of effective grassroots ‘voice’ and the importance of real life stories found in the JRF research we were discussing. He also, however, stressed that poverty is also (and always) political. For me, that latter point reminds us that even in such straitened times, governments still make choices over what they prioritise and could come to different conclusions about progressive taxes, about the mix of redistributive and more untargeted policies.

Bruce White (GCPH) presented important demographic and other trends relating to different dimensions of poverty comparing Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire. Bruce highlighted the utility of powerful infographics using aggregate and especially disaggregate data. One could not fail to be struck by the significant gradients across neighbourhoods often displaying massive differences from the most to the least affluent areas when looking at child poverty, fuel poverty, proximity to vacant and derelict land, to life expectancy and healthy years’ expectancy. He also illustrated the value of the bespoke community profile created for West Dunbartonshire.

This was followed by Richard Crisp’s evidence review. There were a number of things about this work worth noting:
  • He was clear that community-led approaches do impact on poverty and do so in different helpful ways – but they are modest in comparison to the scale of the problem.
  • He presented a useful typology of community led approaches: voluntary action (e.g. food banks); community organisations (e.g. neighbourhood clean-ups); social action (e.g. living wage campaign); community economic development (e.g. social enterprise); and, community involvement in service delivery (e.g. participatory budgeting).
  • He distinguished between material and non-material forms of poverty. The former concern reducing the costs of housing or energy, providing access to affordable credit or creating employment opportunities. The latter encompasses health and well-being, the quality of housing and the physical environment and wider social participation. The framework used also distinguished three types of positive impact: pockets (immediate respite or support ‘felt in the pocket’), prospects (approaches that help people exit poverty) and prevention (approaches that mean people do not enter poverty). I thought this was a good way of carving up and analysing the evidence. They then moved on to see whether attractive approaches had potential scalability or reach.
  • The research team used this framework and found considerable variety in impacts, their depth and scalability. Little evidence was found of approaches that might be called prevention-based.
  • I was a little concerned initially about the use of the terms scale and spread but Richard, to my mind, correctly, pointed out that specific approaches have to be situated and contextualised and then assessed as to whether they are adaptable to different settings. It is also the case that local or community-level policies have to be set in the wider sub-regional or regional economic context.
  • Finally, there was a powerful point made in the conclusion. Despite the good things evidenced in the report and seen in different parts of the UK every day in local communities, if national politicians thought that the community, the third sector and the big society would step in to fill the gaps created by austerity and deliberate policy change – they were wrong. The scale of the shortfall and its consequences for increased and deepened poverty need a sustained large scale response.
It was not all speakers speaking – there was plenty of active and varied interaction and participation from the delegates. This was a genuinely stimulating event and it was great to see that the JRF’s UK research spoke so clearly to west central Scotland. The following day the caravan headed to Dundee where the research was similarly relevant there.

7 September 2016

Scotland and international experiences of scaling-up participatory budgeting


The Scottish Government has recently reiterated its support for participatory budgeting with a blog post by the Minister for Local Government and Housing which confirms a national support programme for local authorities and communities

An international conference on participatory budgeting will be taking place in Edinburgh on 20th and 21st October 2016.

So we thought this was a good time to ask Giovanni Allegretti, who talked about international experiences of participatory budgeting at a What Works Scotland event in June, to share his reflections on ‘scaling-up’ participatory budgeting and how Scotland can learn from, and contribute to, the international expansion of participatory democracy.

4 July 2016

"Challenge current practice and assumptions! Make waves!!" - Findings from a Collaborative Action Research learning event

What Works Scotland and Community Planning Partnerships put themselves under the spotlight at an event where participants shared their Collaborative Action Research experiences from across Scotland, and examined this way of working.

Here Richard Brunner, Research Associate at What Works Scotland, highlights the findings.

24 May 2016

The 2016 Alliance Conference and the Politics of Possibility

On 23rd May, The Alliance - the national third sector intermediary for health and social care organisations in Scotland, held its annual conference, and at the same time celebrated its 10th birthday.

In this blog, Claire Bynner, Research Associate for What Works Scotland, reflects on the people at the event, their activism, and the politics of possibility.

9 May 2016

What key Evidence to Action resources are available for public service reform?

Karen Seditas offers an overview of What Works Scotland knowledge partners’ resources for Evidence to Action.

What Works Scotland (WWS) has a range of knowledge partners who have a role in improving the use of evidence in public service reform. We explored these partners’ Evidence to Action (E2A) activity in the context of public service delivery to provide an overview of the evidence approaches provided, specifically:
  • target audiences/participants,
  • broad topics (relating to public service reform),
  • what resources they use,
  • the types of activity (mechanisms) involved in those services,
  • what gaps currently exist.