Multiple approaches, telling stories and putting in the groundwork to establish effective connections – what does it mean to work together effectively?
Here we ask participants in the Aberdeenshire collaborative action research about what they learned from different projects and what they continue to learn from the experience.
The Aberdeenshire case site page tells the continuing story of the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership (CPP) and What Works Scotland action and participatory research work from 2015 onwards through the key research projects, related activities and resulting reports.
Here, is the same story but from a different perspective – that of ‘us’ the participants – and what we – the participants – think about putting the Christie Commission’s recommendations for the future delivery of public services into action.
This work focussed on, firstly, community capacity building for health and wellbeing, and, secondly, relations between central and local community planning (multi-layered preventative partnership).
From 2016, our work together generated research and we took the time to reflect on what we learned – and continue to learn – from this.
The following reflections on policy and practice relate to the two broad strands of inquiry above, and also to the underlying strand: ‘What are we learning about the potential of collaborative learning and action to support and challenge public service reform in Scotland?’
1. Community capacity-building for health and wellbeing
“Partnerships were crucial to activities being successful and sustainable. Linking with the right person/organisation was only possible after the groundwork was done in the first few months in establishing networks and contacts. This meant a shared understanding of each others’ roles already existed and allowed appropriate connections to specialist skills, experience or knowledge to be levered in when necessary.”
Alison Grant, Community Health in Partnership coordinator, Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action:
“Participants in the Insch Community Links Worker activities reported improvements to physical health conditions such as arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure also improved diet and weight loss. However, equally significant are the social benefits recognised by them, [such as] ‘social interaction'”.
“What was also apparent, is the complexity at the community level, with a multi-faceted range of community support and capacity in place. One size certainly does not fit all with key community anchors varying across Aberdeenshire.”
2. Multi-layered preventative partnership working
“…there is still considerable scope for preventive action to be implemented by partners at a local/regional level and within the context of community planning.”
“As we become more aware that the underlying cause is rarely one-dimensional, and therefore needs a multi-faceted approach to be managed effectively, collaboration is essential for responsive services that are fit for purpose.”
James Henderson, Research Associate, What Works Scotland, wrote a blog piece on multi-layered preventative partnership working and the potential this offers for continuing to question the causes of inequalities and why they are so hard to shift.
“At an early event – the first Collaborative Learning Day on ‘partnership and participation’ – we began by asking the participants to reflect on: “what does putting ‘Christie’ into action’ mean to you?” One person commented that this was an ambitious question to expect participants to answer … and yet the question generated rich discussions on the day, and has continued to do so as our work has developed.”
Wayne Gault, Lead Officer with Aberdeenshire Alcohol and Drugs Partnership, wrote a blog piece about the complexities of partnership working to tackle alcohol culture.
“Capturing the interest of CPP partners about something that might be peripheral to their core business was always going to be difficult as partners inevitably have an already full agenda of commitments. Making the case on an objective, rational basis or telling a compelling story about why the alcohol topic was relevant to them wasn’t sufficient.”
Chris Littlejohn, Deputy Director of Public Health with NHS Grampian, responded to At the frontier of Collaborative and Participatory Governance: Eight Discussions to support putting Christie into action considering some of the challenges the report raises for a public health agenda committed to tackling inequalities.
3. The potential of collaborative learning and action (action research)
“If ‘we’ are to pursue collaborative approaches to integration, rather than largely top-down or market-focused ones, then collaborative action inquiry and research has the potential to provide such longer-term practical and reflective spaces. ”
Fiona Soutar (NHS Grampian) and Jane Warrander (Aberdeenshire Council) wrote a blog discussing their work on a Beyond Action Learning approach that generates a bottom-up approach to partnership development.
“Nearly four years later we were delighted, and somewhat relieved, that observations and experiences of the current relationships and behaviours in the partnership confirmed the BAL philosophies and methodologies had been successfully embedded, the benefits continued to be notice, and sustainability of the model was demonstrated.”
Th final Aberdeenshire / What Works Scotland report was At the frontier of collaborative and participatory governance: Eight key discussions to support putting Christie into practice – reflective learning with practitioners from Aberdeenshire CPP
It builds on the action research work with both local and central community planning partnership (CPP) partners in Aberdeenshire over 20 months to the end of 2016. It draws from reflective interviews (summer 2017) with 23 local and central practitioners and policymakers working across the CPP.
James Henderson, Research Associate with What Works Scotland, considers the final reflective learning report from the Aberdeenshire case site and the challenges of ‘putting Christie into action’ in this blog In search of effective collaborative challenge for a more equitable society