timeline showing CAR events from 2014 to 2015

This working paper aims to share the findings from the What Works Scotland programme of Collaborative Action Research (CAR). CAR is a way of working that challenges traditional approaches to research and evidence.

This was the first time that CAR has been attempted in complex public service partnerships. Therefore, this project was a trailblazer for methodological innovation and learning as well as providing insights into public service reform (PSR) in practice.

The paper highlights learnings and insights that What Works Scotland’s four researchers gained from facilitating CAR over three years (2015-2017) in four community planning partnerships – AberdeenshireFifeGlasgow and West Dunbartonshire. The practitioners in each CAR group came from diverse organisations and professions, and had differing levels of knowledge, skills and responsibilities. They worked with the researcher to achieve an evidence-informed approach to Public Service Reform in one area of their work.

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. In doing so, the paper demonstrates the potential for CAR to provide useful, and sometimes challenging, insights into the practices, contexts and challenges of Public Service Reform.

Download the publications here

Collaborative Action Research and public services: insights into methods, findings and implications for public service reform (pdf)

Collaborative action research working paper executive summary (pdf)

More details


  • Dr Hayley Bennett is a research associate based at the University of Edinburgh’s Social Policy department. Her research interests are the design and delivery of policies aimed at reducing unemployment, inequality, and poverty, and she worked with community planning partners in Fife.
  • Dr Richard Brunner is a research associate at the University of Glasgow, and has conducted studies using a wide variety of qualitative research methods. He worked to support community planning partners in Glasgow.
  • Dr Claire Bynner worked with community planning partners in West Dunbartonshire. She is a research associate at the University of Glasgow and her interest in What Works Scotland came from her previous experience of policymaking and academia.
  • Dr James Henderson has worked on social research, policy and communications work in the third sector since 2001. He is a research associate at the University of Edinburgh and supported community planning partners in Aberdeenshire.

Type of publication: Working paper

Date of publication: December 2018

Related resources

Our approach to collaborative action research

The What Works Scotland approach to collaborative action research and the learning that is emerging from our work in multi-agency, multi-practitioner public service environments.

Digging deep and getting dirty hands! Doing collaborative action research with public services

Since 2015 Dr Hayley Bennett and Dr Richard Brunner have been creating, adapting and co-producing collaborative action research activities with various public service professionals across Scotland. In this blog, they share insights on the role of professional researchers in collaborative, participatory and action research approaches.

Reflections learning from the Fife Collaborative Action Research Programme (2015-2017)

A report co-produced by practitioners in Fife and What Works Scotland that highlights some of the learning from the CAR programme in Fife. The content covers both the positive learning that resulted from bringing together a diverse range of practitioners to undertake an inquiry, and the challenges inherent in that process.

Blog: Health and Social Care Integration – seeking the ‘space’ and commitment to support complex local partnership-working

What Works Scotland researcher James Henderson reflects on developments in health and social care integration.