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Working in Partnerships

From the Magnificent Seven to the Avengers, via Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha, popular culture tells us that the team is stronger than any individual member, and that we can achieve things together that we could never achieve apart.

That’s why so much of the focus of our work so far this year has been establishing a team to deliver our mission of supporting the social work profession, children and families through the provision of more and better evidence. Looking around, I’m pleased that we’ve been able to recruit such an excellent group of people – social workers, civil servants, researchers and programme leaders – and it’s been a pleasure to watch the team take shape.

As wonderful as our team is, however, we know that we’re still small, and that there’s a limit to what we can achieve by ourselves. That’s why we’ve been striving to form partnerships with other people and other organisations, to ensure that we can achieve as much impact as possible. This month, we’ve begun to see some of this bearing fruit.

Last week, we spoke about our first major research partnership, with the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme, an £84 million investment by the DfE in scaling up the whole system models of Leeds, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire. I wrote last week about our role in the evaluation of this programme, which is being carried out through three large scale stepped wedge trials.

Earlier this week, we announced Supporting Families: Investing in Practice (SFIP) which is another partnership with the DfE, and with Daybreak and the Centre for Justice Innovation. In this programme, we intend to partner with up to 40 local authorities to test the scale-up of Family Group Conferences (FGC), and innovations on the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) models. Our evidence review of FDAC is here in our evidence store and we’re really excited to be working to fill the gaps in the evidence base for FGC in the UK, and to be testing new innovations and iterations on the well-evidenced FDAC model.

Neither of these programmes would have been possible without collaboration between organisations, with the different partners bringing different experience and expertise to the table that will hopefully make each greater than the sum of its parts.

We’re also really pleased to have announced the membership of our Evaluation Advisory Group. This group, a mix of practical evaluation experts from other What Works Centres and leading academics, will scrutinise our evaluation procedures and methodologies, to ensure that the work we do and commission is of the highest possible standard. Our Evaluation Advisory Group has also been instrumental in appointing the first tranche of members to our Panel of Evaluators – a group of leading conductors of evaluations, who we’ve already begun engaging with to conduct evaluations under the SFIP programme.

Finally for this month, we’ve begun working with the first partners in our “Practice In Need of Evidence (PINE)” programme. These partnerships with local authorities will be working with frontline social workers and team managers to build evidence mindedness within their organisations, and to begin building an evidence base around innovative practice at a local level.

Looking to the future, we’ve been thinking about how to join up with our colleagues in other What Works Centres and to ensure that the research we produce can provide as holistic a picture of how to improve the lives of young people and their families. This is still a work in progress, but Jonathan Breckon from the Alliance for Useful Evidence and I have written a blog outlining an approach that we’re hoping to launch in 2020 – bringing together multiple What Works Centres (and similar organisations) in a shared physical space to encourage collaboration and cooperation.

These partnerships, and others that we hope to announce in the coming months, show that through our actions, as well as our words, we are committed to impact and to partnering with others. I’m excited that we’re going to be working with so many partners on these trials – and if we’re not working with you yet, we hope to be very soon.