Report and resources from a collaborative action research inquiry in Fife which sought to find out why parents came to Family Fun projects in Kirkcaldy and what impact the projects had on their engagement with the primary school and with adult learning.

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

Key findings

  • Act strategically but be socially aware when seeking to engage parents:
    • the social element/interaction is a key factor in attracting parents
    • the basic attraction of a snack is important
  • Ensure staff in schools and community workers work collaboratively to develop and run sessions, yet be aware that it can be helpful for teaching staff to maintain distance
  • Hold sessions at the schools directly after the school day to improve participation (from both staff and parents)

The inquiry

The group of practitioners – called the Partnership Innovation Team (PIT) – which undertook this collaborative action research inquiry focused on Family Fun projects operating in Kirkcaldy. They felt that this topic would enable them to understand activities which joined up two different aims: increasing parental engagement with schools, and providing access to adult learning.

The individuals within the PIT who worked directly on the Family Fun model observed that the success of the Pathhead Model has “not always been easy to replicate”.

The group sought to better understand the design and delivery of Family Fun initiatives so that other localities within Fife (primarily Glenrothes), could understand what works and how they could develop their own version of the approach.

The practitioners identified that this inquiry would fit within the Kirkcaldy Area Local Community Plan and the ‘Family, Early Years and Young People’ priority theme. This priority is closely aligned to developments within a children’s services context and particularly Fife Council’s recent investment in the Family Nurture approach, a transformational change programme for early intervention and prevention. This programme focuses on improvements in service planning and applying a strength-based and multi-agency approach. The practitioners considered that at its core is community engagement and empowerment. Consequently the PIT thought that learning from the inquiry into the Family Fun project would be able to contribute to the wider discussions about engaging families with services.

The key questions were:

  •  “How can organisations work better together to improve outcomes for families at a local level?”
  • “Why are families participating?” 

The context

The Family Fun project began as a partnership project between Kirkcaldy Community Learning and Development staff (Fife Council), third sector and family support staff with the Pathhead Primary School team. The headteacher of Pathhead Primary School identified a need to better engage vulnerable parents in the school setting as well as improve links with the wider community. Likewise the community education worker observed that although it had been challenging to involve parents in adult learning opportunities, many did request activities they could enjoy with their children.

It was discussed and agreed that they would run a four-week pilot of informal provision where families could come along to the school and spend quality time with their children engaging in simple, low cost activities. The sessions were set up for an hour-and-a-half after school one day a week and offered a variety of activities as well as a healthy snack. All activities were provided free of charge.

An evaluation demonstrated the success of the four-week pilot, and they continued to run them. The sessions have continued since, with families moving on and others joining. Adults in some of the sessions have been signposted to further learning opportunities.

The members of the Partnership Innovation Team

For much of the time of the inquiry the group included:

  • Local government: Based at the centre with Fife-wide functions:
    • Policy officer
    • Analyst (Research team)
  • Local government: Kirkcaldy-based practitioners
    • Two local development officers
    • Family participation officer
    • Early years co-ordinator (seconded)
  • Local government:  based in other localities in Fife
    • Family participation officer (Central area)
    • Community education worker (Glenrothes)
    • Community learning and development team leader (Glenrothes)
  • Third sector
    • Project worker
  • What Works Scotland
    • Research fellow, University of Edinburgh
    • Occasional extra support from a second Research fellow based at the University of Glasgow

Inquiry activities

The Partnership Innovation Team met seven times for this inquiry including PIT meetings and sub-groups working on specific parts of the data collection and writing processes. However the inquiry team developed via a range of earlier What Works Scotland support and interactions including facilitated sessions, events, home retreats, and national retreat activities, as well as the parallel CAR activities taking place within the same locality.

These are some of the research activities the PIT members worked on:

WWSFamilyFunPeertoPeerCreated a data collection and research plan to undertake between May and December 2016. The PIT members compiled 56 questions grouped into Before, During, and After participation in the Family Fun sessions. Following comment and discussion these were then refined into 20 less formal questions which were also edited and softened so they were more suited to the Family Fun environment.

Carried out focus groups and interviews with parents who had taken part in existing and previous Family Fun sessions using the 20 questions.

The PIT  members felt that “…the facilitation and personal engagement this offered with participants was an opportunity to glean at first hand a potentially deeper understanding of the views of these participants.”

There were:

  • two focus groups with parents from Pathhead and Burntisland primary schools’ Family Fun projects.
  • four single interviews with participants from Pathhead, Kirkcaldy West, and Burntisland primary schools

Discussion session for staff to share thoughts and learning on running the Family Fun programme

Presentation to Fife Council elected members by the PIT lead, Chris Miezitis, projects officer and community education worker at Fife Council, and JP Easton, Glenrothes Community Development area manager, Fife Council.

See the Fife CAR Family Inquiry Approaches presentation – 25 Jan (PDF)

Action plan based on the work and findings of the PIT, developed at the Fife home retreat held in November 2016.

Key outcomes of CAR 

  • Improved relationships between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy practitioners which will help with future cross-location working
  • Better connection between central and local staff and the beginnings of a dialogue that should strengthen links between policy and practice
  • Deeper practitioner understanding of the technical aspects of undertaking a research project and requirements of data collection
  • Greater understanding that the CAR approach assumes and requires a range of existing skills within a group
  • Resources and direct interventions may be necessary to introduce and reassure practitioners who may not have previous experience with action research, collaborative learning, or critical reflection.

What was the impact of using a collaborative action research approach?

The learning and experience of this PIT provides valuable insight into some of the challenges of collaborative working and the use of CAR in particular contexts and settings.

The issues and support needs impacted on the pace of the research work, and the extent to which the group were able to complete action research cycles. What Works Scotland had to produce a range of extra resources and direct interventions to introduce and reassure those practitioners who had not previously encountered action research, collaborative learning, or critical reflection. Some practitioners sought additional support regarding some of the relational aspects of this work, particularly during the early stages of setting up the groups and when faced with collaborative issues.

This group process highlights the importance of the pre-conditions to undertaking such work, and the extent to which CAR initiatives engage in particular contexts.  Despite the difficulties, there were pragmatic actions and the inquiry led to tangible learning for some practitioners.

There is an increasing desire for universities to engage and work more closely with non-academic partners. In this way it is useful to understand the complexity of this relationship and the assumed activities and roles that academics may experience, or the difficulties some practitioners experience when faced with what they perceive to be ‘new’ terms or concepts.

What Works Scotland will continue to explore and share learning on issues such as the variation of capacity, skills, and resource demands to undertaking public service reform based on the concepts of collaborative governance.

Download the report

Collaborative Action Research Report: Fife Partnership Innovation Team exploring the Family Fun Model (PDF)

The report was written by Dr Hayley Bennett, based on the practitioners’ inquiry and the information they provided in their populated reporting template.

Related resources

Fife case site page
All the collaborative action research projects by practitioners in Fife and What Works Scotland.