Four speakers shared their insight into evidence into action. Paul Vaughan set the scene in Fife; Sarah Morton talked about the issues of getting evidence into action; and David Paterson and Coryn Barclay shared examples of evidence to action projects in Fife.
Paul Vaughan, Head of Community and Corporate Development for Fife Council
There has been a good history of evidence to action in Fife, starting with the idea of 'Research Coordination' in 2003 and moving on to the development of the KnowFife dataset: briefings and bulletins to try to promote the research agenda. This was really a way of making sure that research got out there. However, there has been a retrenchment due to lack of resources. KnowFife remains as a repository of local neighbourhood statistics and is highly valued and widely used. However, research fairs have been discontinued. Evidence is seen as part of partnership work.
Where are we now? The big push has been around localisation- devolving authority to local areas. Statistical data can be used at small areas and has fed into design, grant application and service change. Data is also being used in a more analytical way in developing strategic approaches, as something that can tell a story about the area to help inform change.
What we need now is a push for a more rounded 'business intelligence and insight'. What are all of the information sets, how are people using them? What are they telling us? Tying up information sets from administrative data. Trying to tie up personal data and using it better. We may have missed a trick in linking data from different sectors. We don't need to constantly anonymise data before sharing – it is essential that we link data and use this more intelligently within the way we deliver services.
What are the issues and what can we do about it? What analytical support do we have at hand and how is it targeted? What do we know about what works? Where is evaluation capacity across the system? There isn't an evaluative culture in local service delivery. Access to data has been a contested issue in the past, but hopefully have got past data-sharing protocol issues and can move on. The data and knowledge we hold needs to be better shared across the partnerships.
Where to next? How can we as a small area in Fife get the benefits from big data? How can we use tools and techniques to get benefits and show what's changing? How do we start to avoid data sharing issues and the anonymity red herring? We need to use our own data rather than wait for national data, e.g teenage pregnancies- how can NHS staff make sure that data is used more quickly rather than waiting for months and years for national aggregation? How can we get better at learning and sharing? How can we make sure people think about what is happening elsewhere and what is working elsewhere in a more systematic way? How can we ensure that the interest in evidence to action spreads beyond the 50 people in the room to the 18, 000 in the council?
Sarah Morton, What Works Scotland Director for Evidence to Action
Pulled together some of the messages from the Working Paper Getting Evidence into Action to Improve Scotland's Public Services
The What Works Scotland approach is to work with people designing and delivering public services to generate and use different kinds of evidence: research, data, community engagement, evaluation, along with tacit knowledge and political priorities. This is a difficult task. Even if all of these data sources are available, how can decision-makers balance and combine these forms of evidence to inform decision-making?
The paper highlights how What Works Scotland are thinking about the use of evidence in public services. We are starting from the perspective that research does not speak for itself and usually doesn’t clearly highlight what should be done. We are bringing a variety of tried and tested approaches from previous projects (About Families and the Evidence Bank), and from our national partners that we know help people make the best use of the evidence in front of them. By working in partnership we will support practitioners to get the evidence they need, as well as learning about evidence use issues in a way we can share more widely with Government and others interested in public service reform.
David Paterson, Area Services Manager for Levenmouth
An example of evidence to action in Leven
In Leven Town Centre we used data and community consultation to drill down and understand some of the issues in the area. These included lack of investment due to lower ranking than the bigger towns in Fife, a negative change in retail mix- charity shops and popup shops, rising vacant shops and takings being down. The negative press associated with this was a big influence on councillors.
There were other concerns about the area too: rates, a big supermarket drawing 70% of retail market into one shop. There was a proposal for another supermarket. Charges for parking were maybe going to be introduced. Changes in bus services required due to structural issue on a bridge. We needed better representation from local businesses on the planning group.
We had some good sources of information from observation, businesses, shoppers colleagues and the press. But we had no footfall measures, no measures of shop or taxi takings. Goad surveys helped us understand how the high street was being used. SIMD2012 employment and income domains were useful contextual information to compare with other parts of Fife
Leven was suggested as a Charrette - a pilot area for a Scottish government project. This resulted in Planning AID Scotland coming in to carry out an intensive piece of consultation - short sharp, visual, identifying the right people, over four days, followed by an action report with signatures of those agreeing to take action produced within a few weeks. Different kinds of data were fed into the process- technical data- flooding, ground conditions, land use, planning policy etc. This allowed decisions to be based on a wide range of data combined with community consultation.
By Friday lunchtime (day 3) we had a good picture of the concerns of the local people. This was quickly turned into a proposal document to be used in a master-planning phase with urban design. It tied in with the local community plan, and because the process had been followed by the local press, it was easier to get political support.
Immediate actions included a deep clean of the high street, signage and other small improvements. This was followed by an application for 1.5 million funding to implement the plan. The evidence gathered by the Charrette was the basis for this application, and timely to respond to new housing and services in the area. The data and evidence generated through the process was essential for telling the story of this area in way that could inform change.
Coryn Barclay, Policy Coordinator (Research), Community and Corporate Development
Working to combine data for change
What do we know about poverty at a local neighbourhood level? We have child poverty and SIMD data but not much else. We didn't have any sense of the types of households and the income for different types of families, although we knew from research that the number of people per household and the composition has an impact on household living standards, poverty and material deprivation.
We approached Prof Glen Bramley at Heriot-Watt University about updating work that he had done nationally for the UK Treasury. We garnered support from various agencies to help get the work off the ground, including other councils, and the Scottish Government. The project delivered local income and poverty estimates for all neighbourhoods in Scotland, and results were shared via Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics and the Improvement Service Website. To make the data useful locally, we created briefings with key messages and local profiles providing a way of looking at income and poverty for different types of households, and shared these through https://knowfife.fife.gov.uk. Interactive maps helped to show which areas were the highest on different measures of poverty. We took this new information to the Fife Partnership Board. This opened up a discussion about the outcome of reducing low income households, and was used as lever to get Partnership buy-in to actions, including additional investment in local development/neighbourhood action.
This led to new evidence being available across Scotland, although we are not sure of how it is being used in other places. It has been used recently by the James Hutton Institute to create a Socio-Economic Performance Index for rural areas. The availability of data also supported numerous funding bids, including a £1million Big lottery 'Our Place' fund award for Auchmuty. Questions on material deprivation have since been included in the Scottish Household Survey.
We also got the then Depute Leader (now Leader) of the Administration to press release the new data, helping to create political will around change as well as awareness of the data itself. Building on the success of joint commissioning of research, we are now working with National Records of Scotland to deliver small area population projections, to understand how the population is expected to change over the next 25 years within each local authority.
In this case a need for better information led to collaboration across local authorities and is now informing a variety of changes.