What Works Scotland has been working with Community Planning West Dunbartonshire (CPWD) to address local priorities for public service reform.


Research Associate Claire Bynner led and co-ordinated the research activities. A range of research initiatives were undertaken, employing diverse research methods including collaborative action research.

The topics for research in West Dunbartonshire were informed by the local context and priorities, in particular the development of a new place-based approach to public service reform. 

Ideas for research projects were developed through two What Works Scotland national retreats:

The research activity in West Dunbartonshire focused on place-based approaches and the themes of community engagement, evidence use and vulnerable groups.

West Dunbartonshire timeline

Collaborative action research

Visual summary of What Works on Community planning produced by Community Planning West Dunbartonshire

What works in community-led action planning? – Research

The aim of this research project was to research and design a meaningful and effective process of dialogue and participation in community-led action planning (C-AP).

Members of the community planning team conducted narrative interviews with peers in other authorities and co-designed a development day to share findings with local community engagement practitioners. A meta-planning activity drew out key conditions to support community-led approaches to action planning.

Community-led approaches to reducing poverty – Seminar

Cover of the Community-led approaches to reducing poverty reportThe community-led action planning project in West Dunbartonshire led to interest in the UK-wide evidence on community-led approaches to reducing poverty in neighbourhoods. Dr Richard Crisp from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, attended a What Works Scotland seminar in Clydebank in September 2016 to share findings from a review of evidence and practice carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Collaborative Evaluation of ‘Your Community’ – Research

The collaborative evaluation took place during April to June 2016, eight months into the phased implementation of a new neighbourhood approach to community planning across 17 community council areas called Your Community. The aim of this approach is to support communities to become more sustainable, thriving and aspirational and improve service delivery. The purpose of the evaluation was to identify the aspects of Your Community that were showing progress and potential and aspects that have been challenging.

Diagram showing the Theory of Change for West Dunbartonshire's Your Community An approach called Contribution Analysis was used to carry out the evaluation. Contribution Analysis is a form of theory-based evaluation that explores the factors that affect the inputs, processes and outcomes of a complex initiative.

The first step of the evaluation was to develop a coherent narrative to describe Your Community’s Theory of Change – the logic model that describes how inputs and activities lead to outcomes. This was designed to be a tool that the partnership can use in future for ongoing self-evaluation. A Theory of Change was developed by the staff leading on the delivery of Your Community and What Works Scotland. This evaluation sought to gather evidence to test the theory of change and to interrogate the risks and assumptions that challenge the success of the model.

A full description of each stage of the theory of change is provided in the report. Responses to the evaluation were analysed using the Contribution Analysis framework.

Local partners took immediate action to address some of the issues raised, including reviewing timescales to allow more time for services to respond and to build relationships in communities and training for staff on the Community Empowerment Act and engagement methods.

Community Conversations that Matter Workshop – Training workshop

Slide from Community Conversations that matter presentation showing Key challenges in organising public participation processes: Impact - clear link to decision-making: Inclusion and Diversity: Quality of Dialogue and Deliberation. Each one feeds into the next as a loop.In response to the emerging findings from the Collaborative Evaluation, What Works Scotland organised a training workshop for community planning partners on community engagement with Dr Oliver Escobar.

The success of this workshop led to the proposal for a national training programme on skills in facilitative leadership. This training was designed by Dr Oliver Escobar, Dr Wendy Faulkner and Dr Claire Bynner and delivered in April 2017.

Evidence to action

What works in community profiling?  Data profiles – Research

Your Community exampleThis project brought together What Works Scotland, Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) and the community planning team of West Dunbartonshire Council. It also drew on the expertise of ISD (Information Services Division, NHS National Services Scotland) in data analysis.

The purpose of the project was to work with the community planning team in West Dunbartonshire to co-produce data profiles for the 17 Your Community neighbourhoods and to develop the capacity of local officers to produce and update these data profiles. The aim was to make statistical data at the micro-level more accessible, relevant and meaningful; and to contribute to a more localised approach to policymaking.

See the Insights from ‘Your Community’ report 

Making Data Meaningful – Research

This study seeks to understand how evidence is being used in West Dunbartonshire to inform decision-making. The study also aims to make a contribution to research on evidence use  in general, while building on knowledge of the uses of evidence in West Dunbartonshire specifically. The research questions for this study are:

  • How is evidence used in West Dunbartonshire?
  • What kind of data is seen as valuable/reliable?
  • How do stakeholders collaborate in using evidence?
  • What are the barriers/facilitators to the use of evidence?
  • Do users feel equipped to use local evidence? Do they have the relevant tools?
  • How do users’ own views and professional knowledge affect their use of evidence?

For more details read the blog post Making data meaningful in West Dunbartonshire

See the Making Data Meaningful report

Place-based approaches: equalities and vulnerable groups

Resettlement of Syrian refugees in West Dunbartonshire

This project examined the experiences of Syrians who have been resettled in West Dunbartonshire. The research was conducted by Dr Gareth Mulvey (University of Glasgow) and Nina Murray (Scottish Refugee Council) . Given the sensitive nature of this research this project used traditional qualitative research methods. The research examines the experiences of resettlement for Syrian refugees in West Dunbartonshire and the implications of resettlement for community planning and community activities to support resettlement. Local partners are currently co-designing an event to share the findings and develop actions and outcomes

 See the Resettlement of Syrian refugees research report

Related resources

More than 10 differently shaped cogwheels in different colours connected with grey linesThe What Works Scotland approach to collaborative action research

Discover more about our approach to collaborative action research and the learning that is emerging from our work in multi-agency, multi-practitioner public service environments including West Dunbartonshire.


Collaborative Action Research and public services – insights into methods, findings and implications for public service reform

A working paper sharing the findings from the What Works Scotland programme of collaborative action research (CAR). The paper highlights learnings and insights that the researchers gained from facilitating CAR over three years (2015-2017) in the four community planning partnerships. The findings demonstrate that CAR has the potential to contribute to developing the practices of collaborative governance – partnership, participation, performance and prevention – by constructively and critically engaging with current policy and practice expectations.