What Works Scotland was an initiative that worked from 2014 to 2020 to improve the way local areas in Scotland use evidence to make decisions about public service development and reform. 

We were set up to explore how public services could start to work towards the recommendations of the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services and the Scottish Government’s priorities for reform.

Our four key questions were:

  1. How can we take what we know from individual projects and interventions and translate this into system-wide change?
  2. What is working (or not working), and why, at the different levels of delivery and reform and at the interface between those levels? How do we identify actions which can be taken in communities, at community planning partnership (CPP) and the national levels to improve impact?
  3. What does the evidence (including international) say about large-scale reform programmes that have succeeded or failed and the impact they had in a system-wide context?
  4. Why do results vary geographically and between communities, and how can we balance local approaches with ensuring spread of what works?

To answer these, we worked with a range of community planning partnerships, statutory and third sector organisations, and other bodies since June 2014.

How we work

We modelled our method and our working practice on the emerging Scottish Approach to public service reform (PSR) as we sought to learn what we can take from individual projects and interventions and spread this into system-wide change.

We worked within, and developed, the four pillars of the Christie Commission report – prevention, performance, participation, partnership – and supplement that approach with a focus on place, an element that has become central to PSR in Scotland today.

We worked broadly within a framework that explores how best to mobilise evidence , implement collaborative reform, and promote community empowerment in order to develop public services that improve outcomes and life chances for the people of Scotland.

Our model of evidence to action was based on recognition that evidence generation is a collaborative process and by working together we can help to generate new ways of thinking and doing.

Our work was highly collaborative and carried out in partnership: find out more about our partners.

Sharing and embedding what we’ve learnt

By 2018 we had a strong evidence base on the practices, structures and processes that underpin successful reform in the complex, multi-agency settings that today’s public services have to work in at a time of  unprecedented levels of change and uncertainly locally, nationally and globally.

Our approach to public service reform (PSR) was about:

  • developing joint approaches to working with people, from the frontline of public services to those at a strategic level, from practitioners to policymakers and from third sector organisations to communities of place, practice and interest
  • synthesis of themes across all the strands of work which provide useful understanding of PSR in practice
  • practical suggestions/advice going forward and facilitating dialogue to support PSR and  develop momentum, scale and spread of PSR strategies and practices

Our focus to the end of 2018 was to enhance public service reform through sharing our knowledge of what works and increase our engagement with people responsible for designing, delivering and using public services.

This means synthesising the findings from our in-depth collaborative action research work across the four case site community planning partnerships and our other workstreams, to focus on specific conceptual and practical issues that our work has identified as being important to public service reform.

Co-production, collaboration and engagement with those who design, deliver and use public services has been a central tenet of our approach. We will continue to draw on our existing links and work with our partners and other groups as we pull our learning together to develop evidence- informed approaches to public service reform with a focus on outcomes.

We worked with representatives from the Scottish Government, CPPs and third sector organisations, community groups and other agencies  and we will establish and foster new partnerships  to take what we have learnt from individual  projects and interventions  and explore how  we can best translate  this into system wide change.

Continuing to work in partnership with practitioners, we worked to ‘translate’ our research findings into practical and useful resources, including evidence-based solutions, training, programmes, toolkits and frameworks.

Policy Scotland at the University of Glasgow, is now responsible for maintaining the What Works Scotland website and other online resources.