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.


The evaluation of police and fire reform in Scotland began in February 2015 and is being undertaken by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research ( SIPR), ScotCen Social Research and What Works Scotland.

The main aims of this evaluation are to:

1. Assess the extent to which the three aims of Police and Fire reform appear to have been met, namely:

  • To protect and improve local services despite financial cuts, by stopping duplication of support services eight times over and not cutting front line services;
  • To create more equal access to specialist support and national capacity – like murder investigation teams, firearms teams or flood rescue – where and when they are needed;
  • To strengthen the connection between services and communities, by creating a new formal relationship with each of the 32 local authorities, involving many more local councillors and better integrating with community planning partnerships.

2. Identify lessons from the implementation of reform that might inform the process of future public service reform

3. Evaluate the wider impact of the reform on the Justice system and the wider public sector

The Year 1 report of the evaluation was published in June 2016 and comprised a Summary Report [1] and Evidence Review [2] . It focused on findings emerging from the initial two stages of the work (i) a review of publicly available evidence up to the end of 2015 and (ii) national key informant interviews.

The Year 2 report of the evaluation was published in August 2017 and comprised a Main Report [3] and an Annex [4] . It 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.

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. By examining these areas of Police Scotland and SFRS activity, the evaluation of police and fire reform is able to:

  • Engage more closely with Aim 3 of police and fire reform ('Strengthening connections with communities') which, as the findings from the Year 1 and Year 2 reports have highlighted, remains an area that presents both challenges and opportunities for the two services.
  • Ensure alignment of the evaluation with the current strategic direction of Police Scotland and SFRS as set out in recent strategy documents: Policing 2026 and the Fire and Rescue Framework. Policing 2026 [5] outlines a commitment for Police Scotland to develop prevention driven approaches with particular focus on early intervention, early resolution and diversion. The strategy links prevention with vulnerability and health and wellbeing in justice settings; and suggests communication, education, innovation and partnership working are key factors in the prevention agenda. The Fire and Rescue Framework for Scotland 2016 [6] links prevention with safety and wellbeing. It is suggested that reform should build on the Christie principles and prioritise prevention through working with partners to identify risks faced by communities and individuals to ensure that the service can target activity aimed at addressing inequalities.
  • Provide an opportunity to assess the level of progress in embedding the principles of the Christie Commission in these two key public services. One of the Christie Commission's (2011) [7] key objectives of reform is prioritising prevention. This includes a move away from reactive approaches dealing with immediate problems to longer term initiatives. This is also seen as a key means of tackling 'failure demand', which is a demand which could have been avoided by earlier preventative measures.

The Aims and Approach of the Thematic Case Study

Against this background, the aims of this thematic case study are:

  • To better understand the nature of local partnership working and innovation involving Police Scotland and SFRS;
  • To assess the practices of prevention involving Police Scotland and SFRS;
  • To understand the impact of reform on partnership working, prevention and innovation; and
  • To identify wider lessons for public services around partnership working, innovation and prevention.

The approach used to undertake the thematic case study was similar to the geographical case studies undertaken in Year 2. Four communities were selected for detailed analysis and this included revisiting two areas from the geographical case studies carried out in Year 2 of the evaluation and two new areas identified as 'sites of innovation'. Revisiting two areas provided the opportunity for more in-depth examination of partnership, prevention and innovation in areas already identified as having different levels of crime and deprivation and covering both urban and rural communities. The choice of 'sites of innovation' aimed to allow a focus on areas specifically viewed by those working in policing and fire and rescue as places where new approaches to partnership and prevention had been developed. The evaluation team contacted Police Scotland, SFRS, SPA, HMICS and HMFSI to request examples of innovation in partnership and prevention activity. This produced a 'longlist' of over 50 examples, a number of which had been recognised for awards in public service excellence. From this list, two areas were selected which complemented the geographical spread of the other two case study areas.

The case study areas are as follows:

  • Area A – revisit from Year 2, urban area with a range of levels of deprivation
  • Area B – revisit from Year 2, remote rural area (with retained firefighters)
  • Area C – rural area and site of innovation for home safety in SFRS
  • Area D – large urban area and site of innovation for Police Scotland

How the data was collected

To examine the perspectives of the different stakeholders, qualitative interviews and focus groups were carried out in each of the four case study areas between May and August 2017. Interviewees were also asked to provide, where possible, any evidence including reports and evaluations, of partnership working and prevention. This provided an opportunity to triangulate the evidence provided with the experiences and perspectives of the interviewees. The evidence provided was specific to the case study areas and as such the documents are not referenced in the report as they would disclose the case study areas.

Across the four case study areas, interviews were conducted with 40 police officers, fire officers and partners. All were chosen as they had a specific remit for partnership and prevention work and majority sat at a strategic level including Community Planning Partnership board level. Interviews were conducted with the following:

  • Police officers ( PC, sergeant, superintendent, chief inspector, local policing commander, divisional commander) n = 12
  • Fire officers (local authority liaison officer, district manager, station manager, group manager, local senior officer) n = 14
  • Partners ( NHS, council, social work, housing association, third sector) n = 14

Focus groups (1 focus group was conducted per area with partners involved in specific initiatives identified through the interviews as being good practice examples of partnership and prevention, based on an assessment by the research team) n = 4 . The focus group themes are as follows:

  • Area A - community safety hub
  • Area B – road safety initiative for young people
  • Area C – innovation through home safety in SFRS
  • Area D – innovation through community triage in Police Scotland

Details of each of these initiatives are set out as 4 vignettes in Annex 1.

The majority of the interviews took place face to face but a small number of telephone interviews were also completed. The focus groups were completed face to face and were facilitated by one or two researchers.

Ethical approval for the case study element of the evaluation was obtained from NatCen Social Research (NatCen) Ethics Committee. Access was granted to conduct the research with police officers and firefighters through the Scottish Government protocols.

Access to the police and fire officers was arranged through a named contact at the police or fire station. Local partner organisations were invited to take part via an email or phone call from the research team. Once the focus group theme had been identified, interviewees helped to organise where and when they would take place and invited the relevant partners.

Before the interviews and focus groups took place, the purpose of the evaluation and why they had been invited to take part was explained to all potential participants. Verbal consent was recorded before commencing interviews and focus groups.

With the consent of participants, the interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. All interview data were stored securely, with access limited to the research team. Interview data were coded with NVivo, a software package for qualitative data analysis, using an analytical framework based on the key themes discussed by interviewees. This system of coding facilitates the organisation and analysis of qualitative transcripts and provides a tool to explore the range and diversity of views expressed by participants.

The structure of the report

The report provides a summary of the themes and findings emerging from the research carried out in the four case study areas. The report has four main components: (i) an examination of the context of partnership working and innovation (ii) an analysis of the practices of prevention (iii) an assessment of the wider lessons to be drawn from the case study evidence and (iv) an Annex including four vignettes illustrating examples of partnership working, prevention and innovation.


Back to top