9 May 2016

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

Karen Seditas from What Works Scotland 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.
A summary of our findings is published on the What Works Scotland website here. Not surprisingly, the areas we explored look quite different across the knowledge partners due to the range of types of organisations, their size, activities, remits and contexts. All knowledge partners provide evidence for use by, or which can be accessed by, external agencies or partners. Most often, this is aimed at public sector organisations. Some partners also have a remit to provide information to inform their internal workforce and activities. Collectively, providing evidence to inform topics around health and social care features most prominently.

In terms of how evidence is provided, knowledge partners’ approaches encompass providing data, reports, toolkits etc. (linear dissemination); events, networks and brokering (relational activities); and creating capacity, capabilities and structures to facilitate those activities (systems). Each of these approaches builds on the former, so for example while collectively partners conduct a relatively large amount of ‘linear’ dissemination of data this is often combined with more relational ways of working. Indeed, activities around networking, connecting and dialogue feature heavily across all partners. This relational activity appears to be a central ethos for many partners in their core work, an approach which lends itself to E2A work. Yet while networks and relationships are seen as key, there may be both challenge and opportunity around how to create tangible activities from these in a context of restricted resources.

Knowledge partners identified a range of gaps and issues around taking evidence into action to deliver public services, mainly relating to knowledge brokering, the nature of the evidence base and access to evidence. Knowledge brokering is a growing area, particularly across the health sector partners, some of whom are developing knowledge broker roles in their teams. There is a general desire amongst partners to develop processes, capacities and capabilities to support better use of evidence. Currently, language relating to ‘knowledge brokering’ is used in variable ways across partners and sectors, the skills and competencies required for such roles are not necessarily clear and there is limited support for capacity and capability building in this area, suggesting this as an important area for further exploration.

While we did not explore what is seen or valued as ‘evidence’ by knowledge partners, it was clear that this varies across sectors. This will become of increasing relevance as health and social care integration progresses, and will have implications for the types of knowledge required to meet sector needs and what ‘knowledge brokering’ needs to look like within this changing context. This may also offer opportunities for academics to work with the third and public sectors to better understand evidence needs and develop the evidence base to inform public service delivery.

While some knowledge partners have specific resources to support E2A activity this is not extensive nor widespread, though most partners have access to communications staff. For those organisations without core funding the need to be constantly seeking funding is constraining and diverts capacity away from areas such as E2A. There may be potential to work with a broad range of funders (for example public agencies and independent funders) to enable E2A activities to be a more central part of funder criteria.

Next steps: The What Works Scotland Evidence to Action working group will use report to inform its work around providing accessible evidence for those delivering public services. In the first instance, we will explore how to improve what evidence is available to, and used by, local authorities. In doing this, we will also draw on other What Works Scotland developments including the findings of a survey of Community Planning Partnership officers.

The What Works Scotland knowledge partners who participated in this work are:

Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) (leading the E2A workstream with WWS) produces, supports, stimulates and shares, high quality social research on families and relationships across the lifecourse, and works to increase understanding about evidence to action.

Evaluation Support Scotland provides evaluation resources and training, and supports Third sector evaluation

Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) works across the boundaries of research, policy, implementation and community life to generate insights and evidence, support new approaches, and inform and influence action to improve health and tackle inequality.

The Improvement Service works with Scottish councils and their partners to improve the efficiency, quality and accountability of local public services by providing advice, consultancy and programme support. They run the Knowledge Hub: a platform for KE about public service issues

Inspiring Scotland is an outcome focused venture philanthropy organisation which aims to tackle social issues and change lives.

Iriss supports the diverse health and social care workforce by providing high quality support through the use of evidence, innovation and creativity

LARIA (Local Area Research and Intelligence Association) are a network of local government researchers

NHS Education for Scotland (NES) synthesizes evidence, supports the knowledge needs of integrating health and social care, and supports knowledge broker roles

NHS Health Scotland provides resources and evidence to support Community Planning and have evaluation expertise. Their aim is to reduce health inequalities and improve health.

NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) provides evidence synthesis services and uses data for to improve services across health and social care

NHS Information Services Division (ISD) provide quantitative data analysis and modelling

SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) coordinates the MILO database, which shares data on third sector activities and assets between third sector support providers in localities across Scotland.

The Scottish Government Office of the Chief Researcher provides a strategic, corporate and professional support function to social researchers across the Scottish Government

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