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.

What Works Scotland researchers spent two days in Perth with twenty-one public service and third sector staff from across our four Community Planning Partnership (CPP) case site partners – Fife, West Dunbartonshire, Aberdeenshire and Glasgow.
Participants in discussion at the event 

We wanted our partners to share the Collaborative Action Research (CAR) work we are doing together between the four different CPPs. And we wanted to test some emerging themes from our CAR workstream.

For anyone new to CAR, for What Works Scotland CAR means working in planned research projects with groups of practitioners from a range of CPP partners. We combine facilitation, support with research design, and support with research methods. In this way we enable each CAR group to work with and generate evidence to inform their professional practice.

What Works Scotland is facilitating several such groups in each of the four CPPs, and each CAR group is working on a different, locally-generated topic. As we are doing this, we're learning what this new approach to working with evidence can tell us about the Scottish public service reform agenda.

Facilitating CAR in such complex multi-agency partnerships is completely new for a university research programme. And the practitioners working with us in each CPP are innovating too. So this event brought together some of the group members from the four areas for mutual learning about how CAR is working in practice, and to think about how to get best impact from CAR work.

Over the two days we sought to nurture a Community of Practice across the twenty-one professionals. Communities of Practice are ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’ (Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice: a brief introduction). In Communities of Practice professionals can learn together, and work through the 'backstage' elements of public services work, developing with honesty and empathy together.
"Challenge current practice and assumptions! Make waves!!"
Quote from a participant sums up the potential of CAR, crystallised in Perth. 
One of the event findings was that there is an opportunity in Scotland for developing cross-CPP Communities of Practice made up of professionals that are working on shared topics, concerns, needs or outcomes. What Works Scotland is tracking how the CAR Community of Practice will continue to develop among those present in Perth.

Amongst the other six event conclusions, we found that the innovative CAR approach is proving effective. Whilst appearing resource-heavy, CAR provides a strong model to drive through public service reform and develop new evidence-informed initiatives. However, to maximise the benefit of this, there is a need for leadership and managerial support in CPP partners to allow staff to work in this planned way, and to create the conditions for spread and sustainability of outcomes from CAR groups.

We also found that for practitioners, having time to reflect and plan on policy and practice developments is rare, but is valued. This has proved an essential element of the CAR approach. It helps partnerships to develop which enable dialogue and deliberation, better shared working, and space for effectively working with evidence: all essential elements of public service reform.

Read the full report

You can read about our other findings and themes from Perth - including colour pictures, diagrams, and detail of how the event was facilitated and co-produced - in the full report on the What Works Scotland website.

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