The Scottish Approach to Evidence: partnership and participation

Scotland is trying to change health and social care services to fit society’s needs and is starting to integrate the structures. This is being played out against the backdrop of rising demand and squeezed resources, and the question is what can help make the change?

More preventative, people focused services might hold the key?

This is a view reflected in Scottish Government policy, which calls for a shift towards public services that are more preventative, more holistic, that better include citizens in decision-making. Although this approach is not unique to Scotland – see Nesta’s work on People Powered Health – calls for change have generally been strongest in the voluntary and community sector. However, in Scotland there is a consensus across all sectors about the value of co-production and partnership in public service reform.

How do we make this shift a success?

The Alliance for Useful Evidence makes the case that evidence has a role to play. We need a mix of evidence types, reflecting the complexity of more integrated services and the range of the Government’s vision, which is encapsulated in the outcomes-focussed National Performance Framework.

There are emerging challenges to be worked through. For example, what does robust co-produced research look like? How do we aggregate and make sense of diffuse data on individual outcomes and make best use of citizens’ stories? How can we best support citizens and communities to produce and consume evidence?

These are all questions raised in the new discussion paper The Scottish Approach to Evidence launched by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Carnegie UK Trust. While the paper focuses on Scotland, we think these challenges are shared with others working to improve lives in a people- centred way.

Developing a strong and accessible evidence base

The Scottish Approach to Evidence argues there is a distinctly Scottish Approach to policy that emphasises community empowerment and cross-sectoral policies, but the approach to evidence needs to be developed to keep up with that.

We set out five steps that we need to take to get there:

1. Strengthen the understanding and use of the outcomes approach at national and local level.
2. Build a strong evidence base for more participative approaches to public services. There is a need for the evidence base to keep pace with policy shifts.
3. Develop robust and appropriate methodologies in particular co-produced research (for which currently there is limited evidence), and types of evidence appropriate to participative policies and practices.
4. Help decision-makers, at all levels, identify and use a mix of high-quality evidence.  We need to pay attention to the quality of evidence, particularly when it is for a growing pool of evidence-consumers, including communities and service-users.

5. Learn from each other: Developing a suitable evidence base is a shared cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional challenge.

We need allies to help us take these next steps: including evidence champions, opinion leaders, and role models to be messengers for the importance of evidence in developing outcomes-focussed services. The Alliance for Useful Evidence is a network of over 3000 allies. If you are one of those and interested in taking forward this work, in Scotland and beyond, please don’t hesitate to be in touch; or if you’ve yet to join the Alliance, please sign up here.

Pippa Coutts is the Scottish Lead and Project Manager at the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Pippa has a background in research and policy in the social sector, specifically in Scotland. The original blog was published on the Nesta website.

Remember you can join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.