How we are sharing our insights and learning from working with a range of public service partners to co-produce research inquiries and processes using a collaborative action research approach. 

There is an increasing emphasis in public service reform on increasing partnership working, multi-agency collaborations and co-production. The What Works Scotland research associates have been working with a range of public service partners to co-produce research inquiries and processes using a collaborative action research (CAR) approach since January 2015. You can find the outputs from these inquiries on the case site pages.

Brightly-coloured cogwheels tumbling into one another

Below and in this blogHayley Bennett and Richard Brunner draw on their experiences of conducting CAR with multiple public services. Hayley and Richard presented their analyses in two 2017 presentations to the Scottish Government, outlined below.

In the presentations, Hayley and Richard reflect on the unexpected and expanded role for professional researchers in the complex environment of multi-agency collaborations.

These research insights seek to inform and support others who are engaging in or contemplating forms of collaborative and participatory research, including action research approaches. These insights form part of the What Works Scotland legacy year in 2018.

1. Collaborative action research insights: Challenging research roles?

In April 2017 Hayley Bennett and Richard Brunner held a seminar with Scottish Government social researchers to share learning on:

  • Getting in: navigating access to conduct CAR with public services holds particular complications – it’s a new idea without a guaranteed set of outputs.
  • Getting on: a wide array of researcher skills are required to keep CAR groups going – especially as participants have different skillsets, priorities, and work contexts.
  • Getting out: ending CAR can be frustrating as the CAR group may be performing well at that stage, and may be complicated as services and personnel may have changed over time.
  • However, through this approach, CAR enables public services to learn about, generate, and work with evidence by doing research; and allows researchers to ‘see’ the world through the eyes of public service practitioners, so providing new insights into the reality of public service reform.

Presentation – Collaborative Action Research: Insights from What Works Scotland Challenging research roles? (PDF)

2. Co-producing evidence with public services – Nurturing the buffer zone

In November 2017 Hayley Bennett and Richard Brunner spoke to policy and research teams, as part of the Scottish Government’s Evidence in Policy Week, on the co-production of evidence and the relational and political processes involved in creating the spaces for collaborative inquiries.

They highlighted three key findinsg:

  1. Researchers can help public service practitioners understand processes of evidence generation and levels of research quality, thereby improving their understanding of evidence use and commissioning of research.
  2. Linear ‘models’ and tools of evidence use offer limited value in the context of multi-agency working involving a variety of professions and diversity of organisational cultures.
  3. CAR can offer a useful way to explore public service reform and unpick questions of ‘why’ but requires a wide variety of skills and creates a range of demands.

Insights from both seminars

In this blog post Hayley Bennett and Richard Brunner share insights from both seminars on the role of professional researchers in collaborative, participatory and action research approaches.

3. Relational and political aspects of CAR – developing the ‘buffer zone concept

To disseminate their findings further, Hayley Bennett and Richard Brunner are producing a journal article based on their research into the relational and political aspects of the CAR work.

They are developing the concept of a ‘buffer zone’ to conceptualise the work that takes place to create and sustain relationships  – beyond gatekeeping interactions – to undertake collaborative inquiry work.

They also presented on this idea to academic researchers at the University of Glasgow Sociology Seminar Series on 10 January 2018.

Slides to follow.