Evaluation of police and fire reform: partnership, innovation and prevention year three case study

Findings from a thematic case study from year three of the evaluation focusing on issues of partnership working, innovation and prevention.

Executive Summary

The evaluation of police and fire reform began in February 2015 and is being undertaken by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research ( SIPR), ScotCen Social Research and What Works Scotland. The Year 2 report was published in August 2017 and focused on findings from four geographical case studies which examined local experience and perceptions of the way police and fire and rescue services are being delivered to local communities. The local case study evidence presented a consistent picture of both the progress towards, and perceived challenges remaining with regard to, achieving the long term aims of reform. Despite diminishing resources local police officers and fire fighters believed there was a strong commitment to partnership working. However, one of the wider lessons to emerge from Year 2 of the evaluation, was the need for improved communication between partner organisations to achieve the long term aims of transformational change.

This report presents the findings from a thematic case study undertaken during Year 3 of the evaluation focusing on issues of partnership working, innovation and prevention. Four geographical areas were examined, including revisiting two areas from Year 2 of the evaluation (one urban, one rural) and two new areas identified as 'sites of innovation'. Qualitative interviews and focus groups were conducted between May and August 2017 with 40 police officers, fire officers and partners (broken down in section 2.3) who had a specific remit for partnership and prevention work and the majority sat at a strategic level. In each area, the focus has been understanding the nature of local partnership working and innovation, assessing the practices of prevention, understanding the impact of reform and identifying wider lessons for public services around partnership working, innovation and prevention.

Partnership working and innovation

Evidence from the four case study areas found that there was a shared focus on partnership working, with it being viewed as a 'business as usual' approach by police, fire and partners. There are a wide variety of ways identified of 'working together' ranging from highly structured and formalised arrangements such as CPPs, local, formal arrangements such as community hubs, local partnerships to deliver initiatives and more day-to-day joint working. The impact of police and fire reform on partnership working was variable. Formal partnership arrangements remained stable but other activities, such as community policing, were felt to be negatively affected due to resource redeployment and a shift to a stronger enforcement focus. The establishment of national structures, however, was perceived to have created opportunities for consistency, co-ordination, information sharing and learning from other areas.

Partnership working and innovation were seen as addressing the Christie principles and providing an opportunity to meet demand in the context of reduced organisational budgets and fulfil the requirements of the Community Empowerment Act 2017. Organisational impacts, data and information sharing, leadership and personal skills and qualities were all identified as factors which facilitate and hinder partnership working and innovation.

The practices of prevention

A framework by the Institute for Work and Health was adopted to help understand prevention in practice, this includes categorising prevention activities as primary, secondary and tertiary. Despite Christie's principles (2011) outlining the need to reduce demand through primary prevention, such as early intervention, many of the examples of police and fire prevention activities focused on secondary prevention, directed at preventing an existing risk from reoccurring e.g. young people engaging in anti-social behaviour.

Reform was viewed as impacting on the prevention agenda. SFRS have developed a more coordinated national approach in this area while Police Scotland, after an initial period when prevention was perceived as a lower priority, are now focusing on prevention and collaborative working. This increased emphasis on prevention for both services, is identified as providing more opportunities for focusing on vulnerability, forming different types of partnerships, expanding roles (in SFRS) and taking longer term approaches. Key to this increased focus is also prioritising prevention in partnerships and having organisational support. However, interviewees also identified that financial constraints, reactive demands and trying to get buy-in from partners can all create barriers to prevention activities. There was also an identified need to develop the skills in both services to effectively evaluate prevention activities to better understand impact.


As part of this report, four vignettes provide brief analytical sketches that illustrate a range of partnership working, prevention and innovation, involving Police Scotland and SFRS. The vignettes are based on focus groups conducted in each of the four case study areas and present the perspectives of both Police Scotland and SFRS, as well as the partners they were working with. The vignettes include a mental health community triage project, a community safety hub, a road safety initiative and a home safety programme. The vignettes are referred to throughout the report and can be found in Annex 1.

Wider lessons

On the basis of the thematic case study, there are several wider lessons which can be drawn from this work that are of relevance not just to police and fire and rescue but also to the wider public sector. These lessons include:

  • Focus on the quality and not just the quantity of partnerships;
  • Undertaking rigorous evaluation of initiatives;
  • Understand how successful examples of partnership working and prevention can be spread; and
  • Focus on being a 'learning organisation' in terms of the approach taken to partnership working, innovation and prevention.


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