In our initial proposal for What Works Scotland we argued that it was now clear that a broad consensus existed on the emergent Scottish model and on the role of the recommendations of the Christie Commission and its four pillars. A vision has been articulated and formal institutional arrangements are under way.

The Christie report concluded,

“The goal must be nothing less than a substantial transformation of our public services. The prize is a sustainable, person-centred system, achieving outcomes for every citizen and every community.”

However, a common criticism of Christie, and the Scottish Approach to public service reform is that whilst the discourse that surrounds it is now firmly in place, its implementation has been limited and patchy. Here we aim to help address that gap by sharing summaries of what we have learnt around what works, and what does not, in reforming Scotland’s public services.

A key finding is that effective public service reform (PSR) is often about bespoke solutions rather than ‘one size fits all’ centralised approaches. Local context plays a crucial role in the adoption and development of new processes and structures. The pace of change is uneven and variation across and within local authorities is the norm. Changes in local arrangements help services cope with what is an increasingly complex PSR agenda. New arrangements are seen by some as liberating but for others can be seen as constraining. Building leadership capacity at all levels is key to successful PSR. Whilst there is a strong commitment to partnership and co-production, some of the factors outlined in this report can limit the possibilities for genuine collaborative practices to emerge.

Our emphasis on context-specific solutions doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons to be drawn across cases and between projects. We have grouped those learning points in eight themes:

  1. Participation
  2. Partnership
  3. Governance
  4. Workforce
  5. Leadership
  6. Prevention
  7. Place
  8. Evidence

These themes are underpinned by two cross-cutting principles foregrounded by Christie and which give the Scottish Approach its defining features:

  • The first principle is that PSR must have a focus on community empowerment, premised on the idea of tackling the power inequalities that sustain other social, economic and health inequalities.
  • The second principle is that PSR must be driven by robust collaboration within and between organisations, and within and between sectors.

Many of our findings build on another key tenet from Christie: PSR is not just about structures but also, and perhaps mainly, about culture (mindsets, practices, interactions). Structures provide a tangible focus, but culture is a more elusive target for reform. Our work has paid particular attention to these elusive aspects of changing public service culture, from everyday frontline practices to strategic policy work.

Perhaps the main legacy from What Works Scotland is precisely that contribution to bespoke research and action in the myriad sites where PSR is in motion. This legacy is partly recorded in over 100 publications and provides the foundation for new collaborations across the country in the aftermath of What Works Scotland.

The theme pages offer a selection of published findings, with a focus on key research insights, as well as implications for policy and practice.

Cover of the report Key Messages About Public Service Reform in Scotland with What Works Scotland logo

What Works Scotland: Key messages about Public Service Reform in Scotland

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