13 December 2017

Reflections on the welfare inquiry experience: Building and enhancing partnership working

Fife is one of the four case sites where What Works Scotland has worked with community planning partnerships on collaborative action research into public service reform.

In this guest blog, Gary Smith, member of the Fife welfare reform inquiry team, reflects on the experience and impact of the collaborative action research activities. 

We established the Welfare Reform PIT (Partnership Innovation Team) in March 2015. Initial membership was comprised of practitioners working within the field of welfare reform, organisations within this field, and representatives from Fife Council's policy and research teams. This disparate mix of backgrounds and viewpoints was ultimately a key factor in the success of the group, after some initial concerns were overcome.

The group was initially somewhat slow to come together and find a focus. In some instances, operational staff and staff who traditionally worked in an office-based role had not worked together before, while pinpointing an appropriate research question for the group also took time. Once the group bedded in, members established a good working relationship. Momentum was also generated by the decision to adopt an inquiry question that examined how data-sharing and knowledge of available resources could be improved across Fife.

As the course of meetings progressed, one of the real strengths of the group was the way in which relationships strengthened, both on a personal and on an interagency basis. One group member highlighted that the process demonstrated "the commitment and drive people have to make a real difference and the value of robust partnership working to ensure positive outcomes for people accessing services." Of particular benefit to the group was the enhanced relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with their representation on the PIT helping to provide the organisation with a human face.

As the group continued their exploration of the inquiry question, desk research and participant research indicated that information-sharing was a key issue that affected work around welfare reform in Fife.

Kirkcaldy welfare reform event
This recognition was the impetus for an event in Kirkcaldy that sought to bring together workers and organisations already fully engaged with welfare reform, and those who could make a useful contribution if they became more involved in this area.The event was a great success, with a wide range of attendees from across the welfare reform spectrum. Feedback on the day, coupled with post-event analysis, showed that bringing together such people encouraged information-sharing and increased people's awareness of the service options that exist in Fife.

One aspect that united PIT participants was their desire to make a positive contribution to the issue of welfare reform, with this enthusiasm helping to maintain momentum through periods of staff changes and other impediments to the timescale. In particular, as the PIT came to the latter stages of its working life competing priorities and staff changes reduced the membership to a small core, but work continued to be progressed.

Many PIT participants highlighted the benefits that their membership of the group had brought them, believing that dissemination of the PIT's findings across Fife could benefit other local welfare reform and anti-poverty groups, assisting them to "focus on key issues and build/enhance partnership working." This has been perhaps the most tangible legacy of the PIT: the improved communications across agencies and between different parts of the Council. While this has always occurred, to an extent, the work of the PIT helped to solidify and strengthen this, demonstrating the benefits that arise from such an approach.

Dr Gary Smith is a Partnership Analyst with the Communities Directorate at Fife Council.

See all the outputs form the Welfare PIT inquiry on the What Works Scotland website, including reports from the Kirkcaldy welfare reform event.

Views expressed by guest bloggers may not reflect the views of What Works Scotland.

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