Report from a national collaborative learning event for the practitioners from the community planning partnerships in the four What Works Scotland case sites: Aberdeenshire, Fife, Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire. It describes the purpose, the activities, and the shared learning from the event, held in February 2016.


What Works Scotland brought together public service and third sector practitioners from across its four community planning partnership case site partners to discuss work to date and emerging themes from the What Works Scotland Collaborative Action Research workstream.

The key themes identified were:

  1. The innovative Collaborative Action Research (CAR) approach used by What Works Scotland is proving effective. In CAR, What Works Scotland works in planned research projects with groups of practitioners from a mix of CPP partners, providing a mix of facilitation, support with research design and research methods, and assistance to work with and generate evidence. Whilst appearing resource heavy, CAR provides a strong model to drive through public service reform and develop new evidence-informed initiatives. To maximise the benefit of this, there is a need for leadership and managerial support across CPP partners to allow their staff to work in this planned way, and to create the conditions for spread and sustainability of outcomes from those CAR group.
  2. Having time to reflect and plan on policy and practice developments is rare but has proved an essential element of the CAR approach and is helpful for practitioners in CPPs. Communication between diverse and changing individuals and CPP partners requires respectful consideration and time investment to ensure that partnerships develop which enable dialogue and deliberation, better shared working, and space for effectively working with evidence: all essential elements of public service reform.
  3. There is an opportunity for developing cross-CPP Communities of Practice made up of professionals that are working on shared topics, concerns, needs or outcomes. 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, 2006). In Communities of Practice professionals can learn together, and work through the ‘backstage’ elements of public services work, developing with honesty and empathy together about how they activate public service reform locally, including the Christie Commission pillars and approaches.
  4. Collaborative Action Research provides the space and opportunity for both public services and third sector CPP partners to become learning organisations. Learning is an essential notion to enable individuals and organisations to risk trying new ways of working which public service reform and Christie encourage. They need to be allowed to learn from what works and what doesn’t work, how and for whom, as they experiment with new interventions.
  5. CPPs involve complex mixtures of small and large projects, and whilst each CPP has unique topics, priorities and problems, all have common challenges. These commonly centre on issues of social complexity, competing reform programmes, and improving day-to-day ways of working through partnership, co-production, collaboration, and improving performance in challenging financial circumstances.
  6. In partnership working between individuals and organisations, it is apparent that personal and organisational values play an important role in the effectiveness of collaborative activities. Surfacing, understanding and identifying the values which underpin the choices of projects pursued by CPP partners is a key element of building the foundation of a partnership.

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“Challenge current practice and assumptions! Make waves!!” What Works Scotland Collaborative Learning Event 23 & 24 February 2016

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Authors: Richard Brunner, Hayley Bennett, Claire Bynner, James Henderson

Date of publication: June 2016

Type of publication: Event report