2 November 2016

Making data meaningful in West Dunbartonshire

A What Works Scotland research project is examining how evidence is being used in West Dunbartonshire to make decisions, and how evidence could be made more useful for community planning partners and local communities. 

In this blog What Works Scotland research associate Anna Terje introduces the project and the background to it.

  • How is evidence used in decision making? 
  • What kinds of evidence are seen as valuable and reliable? 
  • How do we overcome barriers to evidence use? 
  • What role does context play in turning evidence into action?

These are some of the questions that our new research project seeks to answer.

What Works Scotland is working with people in West Dunbartonshire to understand more about how public service reform is being implemented on a neighbourhood level and the role of evidence in this.

We want to know what works and what doesn't in making evidence and data accessible and meaningful.

Producing the community profiles 

The Christie Commission, established by the Scottish Government in 2010, made recommendations relating to the future of public services in Scotland. How these recommendations would be implemented in practice was detailed in the Community Empowerment Act of 2015.

 As a part of this, communities were empowered to use their assets to better address local priorities. Community planning partnerships (CPPs) were therefore given more flexibility to make decisions based on robust place-based data, with the added responsibility of to set up locality plans involving collaboration, information-sharing and the funds and staff to secure the success of the project.

An example of a West Dunbartonshire Community profile
An example of a West Dunbartonshire community profile 
As a response, community profiles have been developed in West Dunbartonshire through collaboration between What Works Scotland the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and the community planning team in West Dunbartonshire Council, with input from the Information Services Division.

The aim was to co-produce evidence to build capacity for evidence-use in local improvement projects.

The profiles have now been published and are available on the West Dunbartonshire Your Community website.

Investigating how evidence is used

Following this first phase of the project in West Dunbartonshire, we needed to know more about  how these profiles and other evidence available can be made more meaningful, to enable community planning partners and communities to make decisions on priorities and actions.

We know from past research on how evidence is turned into action that common barriers are often related to lack of relevant evidence of good quality, differences in culture and communication between researchers and research users, and the constraints of working in various contexts such as in a time of restructuring and cuts.

In addition it is unclear what 'evidence' means to decision-makers, and what are the various sources of knowledge they use in their everyday work. There's also a lack of information on the processes leading up to decision-making and therefore, the role of evidence in this.

In order to explore these questions I've started attending and observing at strategic and operational Your Community (the neighbourhood approach in West Dunbartonshire) meetings. I'm also recruiting participants for telephone interviews to hear about their experiences of using evidence in their jobs and the partnerships they are working in.

We want to hear about the experiences of people working in West Dunbartonshire and understand what works in terms of evidence, the processes behind this and the context in which it is taking place.

What we want to learn

Taking into account the various elements involved in decision-making would provide a more holistic view of the various ways in which different types of evidence is used and clarify when, where, and by whom decisions are made. Understanding these questions and issues will help us use and produce evidence more effectively, ultimately helping us to think of how issues are connected and to find better solutions.

Our aim is to use this knowledge with the participants in this study, enabling them to seek solutions to any problems that arise in the course of the research and use this knowledge to inform how they work together in the future. This is necessary for the implementation of a public service reform with a local focus.

This research then, can provide an increased understanding of how evidence is and is not used in West Dunbartonshire, but also contribute to knowledge on the issues faced in implementing public service reform more widely.


Read the interim report from March 2016, on the What Works Scotland website:

Other sources:

Do you have experiences of working on making data meaningful? Please share: we're keen to hear your insights.

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