Self-directed support: Evidence Explorers

One of our key contributions to strengthening the evidence base includes facilitating the co-creation of evidence between researchers, practitioners, policy makers and people supported by carers or services.  There is evidence that developing collaborations, particularly where people can ‘try out’ research findings and conduct their own research, can support the use of research (Nutley, 2003).

This approach is typified in our project focusing on self-directed support (SDS), which brought together people with expertise in SDS (including people supported by services, policy-makers, academics, social services practitioners and service providers) to explore evidence around achieving SDS.  Thirty people were involved, some throughout the project, others intermittently.  The purpose of the project was twofold: first to contribute to the evidence base for achieving SDS, and second to explore the process of combining the expertise and knowledge of several different stakeholder groups as a means to generate the best possible evidence for use in practice.

We see this project as part of an ‘action research’ process which by its very nature is iterative and reflective and allows groups of people to work together to solve problems identified as important to the group.  The project partners began, therefore, by exploring common interests and identifying areas they wanted to work on, within the broad remit of exploring evidence related to SDS.  Participants chose to focus on exploring the evidence about SDS and human rights, SDS and black and minority ethnic groups, and SDS and mental health.  Project partners were involved in a range of activities, such as, running ‘bring your own evidence (BYOE)’ events where participants brought a piece of evidence they found convincing and examined why, they conducted focus groups, reviewed literature, and asked their networks questions about current evidence gaps.

Bringing people with different forms of expertise together to explore and generate new evidence, with no one form of evidence taking precedence, is a relatively innovative approach in the social services in Scotland.  As is initiating a project without a set destination in mind, which allows for the focus to be developed by those involved. For the organisations involved in this process it is a cost-effective approach, building as it does on the knowledge, time and energy of all those involved, and supporting a focus on the issues of key importance.

The evidence generated during the Evidence Explorers work has contributed to the thinking behind another project, Pilotlight.  Pilotlight aims to design four pathways to self-directed support in the form of blueprints. A blueprint is a service design concept, building a comprehensive picture detailing a service from the perspective of the provider and the user. This innovative blueprinting process was chosen because it is collaborative – involving people using the service, delivering the service and commissioning the service at each stage of the design. The visual nature of the design process allows ideas to be shared and refined quickly before rapidly testing the ideas in low-cost ways.

The links between the Evidence Explorers and Pilotlight projects have raised questions  for us about the relationship between evidence and innovation.  We intend to explore this relationship in greater detail in 2013.