This research report is an overview of the What Works Scotland collaborative action research programme which took place between 2015 and 2017 in Fife. It outlines the activities, provides details to encourage the adaptation of CAR approaches and offers insights for professional researchers who are planning similar CAR projects.


This document provides an overview of the collaborative action research (CAR) programme in Fife. This collaboration involved What Works Scotland, and (led by Fife Council) a range of practitioners and organisations involved in community planning in Fife between 2015 and 2016. As part of the What Works Scotland project, the What Works Scotland research fellow Dr Hayley Bennett piloted collaborative action research as a way to bring knowledge generation and knowledge use together.

Eight people in pairs, each pair holding a large differently coloured jigsaw piece and slotting them together

The purpose of this report is to:

  • provide an overview of the Fife CAR programme that took place between 2015 and 2017
  • outline the details and specificities of the Fife CAR programme to practitioners involved in this work in Fife, their colleagues, and What Works Scotland colleagues
  • provide insight and details to encourage and enable better adaptation and spreading of a CAR approach
  • give insight to other professional researchers seeking to initiate or attempt similar CAR projects
  • contribute to the learning in Fife and influence their ongoing work into organisational change, community planning, and partnership working

The Fife CAR programme involved three inquiry groups and an overarching strategy group; each group undertook an inquiry project based on collecting data, the working context, and combining discussions and analysis of their context with evidence and data from elsewhere.

This document emphasises the role of the university researcher in this process, and the skills and resources required to develop methods and approaches in the context of public service reform. It also outlines the work, time, and skills involved in project-managing or coordinating the research activity, including the extent to which and the various ways that university researchers might be engaged in overseeing the research activity.

At the end of the co-produced programme of work the researcher highlighted a number of insights and key aspects.  First, there are clear convergences regarding the benefits of framing practice with the underpinning CAR principles of critical reflection, dialogue, and collaboration across boundaries. Such aspects meet the demands and needs of collaborations between and within organisations, whilst also demonstrating ongoing practice of reflection and action.

Second, the difficulties experienced in this CAR programme highlight the extent to which policymakers increasingly develop and map structures of the collaborations in public sector and beyond (such as community planning). Yet, the ways of working within these structures, and the principles of interacting within collaborative spaces is less well developed and requires much consideration regarding the skills of all professions and types of practitioners.

Dr Bennett concludes:

“University researchers engaged in CAR often write about the distance between academic and non-academic worlds. Based on the work here, I argue that this frame is too simplistic; in the context of public service reform we need to start talking about working across and unearthing the distance between multiple worlds.”

Download the publication

Fife Collaborative Action Research Programme: An overview of the process (PDF)

More details

Author: Hayley Bennett

Date of publication: June 2017

Publication type: Research report

Related resources

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