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.

Conclusions and wider lessons


Partnership working focused on prevention is now firmly embedded at both strategic and operational levels within Police Scotland and SFRS. Although taking a wide diversity of organisational forms, partnership working is widely seen as 'business as usual', is founded on a strong collaborative ethos, and is driven by a combination of policy priorities and economic necessity. The reform of police and fire and rescue services may have initially disrupted some aspects of partnership activity that had been established under legacy arrangements. The current strategic direction of Police Scotland and SFRS clearly places partnership and prevention as high organisational priorities. This is further highlighted in the Justice Vision and Priorities, which outlines the need to 'continue to develop genuine partnership' and ensuring that 'prevention and early intervention are at the heart of what we do to further reduce crime, prevent offending and improve life chances' [20] .

By mapping aspects of this diverse and dynamic landscape, this thematic case study has provided insights which enable better understanding of the facilitators and barriers of effective partnership working and innovation. It has also allowed analytical distinctions to be drawn between the different forms of prevention activity which Police Scotland and SFRS are currently engaged in and to highlight where there are gaps in knowledge and scope for improvement. On the basis of this, 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.

Wider lessons

  • Focus on the quality rather than the quantity of partnership working: this report has highlighted a range of issues which influence the quality of partnership working, ranging from structural considerations around the organisational forms of partnerships, to 'softer' issues regarding leadership, 'relational capital' and issues of trust. Developing these 'softer' skills is important to ensuring high quality and high performing partnerships so programmes to coach and mentor staff involved in partnerships would be of significant benefit.
  • Evaluation matters: understanding which partnerships work, where, for whom, and why, and how and why they contribute to prevention, needs to be a high priority and requires a strong commitment to evaluation. At present there is little systematic, independent evaluation of partnership and prevention activity across Scotland. Addressing this could involve a combination of upskilling the workforce in evaluation methods and using external researchers by, for example, forming local partnerships with universities.
  • Understand how successful examples of partnership working and prevention can be spread: where there is evidence of successful partnership and prevention initiatives, consideration needs to be given to how to 'spread' this as a deliberate approach to change. The literature in this area identifies several key issues including:
    • a sound understanding of what contributes to the effectiveness of an approach, alongside the scope to make adaptations necessary to suit the new setting/context;
    • a clear assessment of the readiness and compatibility of the new setting/context to which an innovation is to be spread;
    • a shared and common understanding about, and belief in, the innovation among those who will adopt the innovation; which might be described colloquially as 'heads and hearts';
    • enabled and empowered staff in the new setting/context – not passive recipients of change;
    • preparation, time, sustained commitment and resources;
    • distributed leadership; across levels and between collaborating partners;
    • collaboration and networking, knowledge exchange; and
    • supporting infrastructure proportionate to the size and complexity of the innovation.
  • Focus on being a learning organisation: Drawing together the points highlighted above, successful partnership working, innovation and prevention requires all agencies to focus on being learning organisations. This involves routine environmental scanning to consider examples of activities around prevention which might have been tried elsewhere and could be adapted to the local context; embedding a culture of evaluation so there is a robust evidence base providing insights into successful and unsuccessful local initiatives; and embracing experimentation as a way of developing and improving approaches to prevention. The mental health community triage project ( Vignette I) provides an exemplar of this approach. This involved identifying a potentially promising approach from another area, understanding the importance of adapting this to the local context through a local needs assessment, then designing local practice using this evidence and ensuring a programme of communication and engagement with police officers and mental health staff before it began.

As Police Scotland and SFRS build momentum around an agenda of 'transformation' as part of the current phase of the reform journey, there is much they can learn from existing practices of partnership working, innovation and prevention that they are currently engaged in. The insights presented in this report around 'facilitators' and 'barriers', knowing 'what works' and 'what doesn't work', and having a clear strategy around the 'spread' of effective practice are all vital to ensuring an effective and sustainable programme of change.


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