This report presents findings from research on the ‘People’s Panel for Wellbeing’ that ran between June 2022 and March 2023. This research was commissioned by the Scottish Government in February 2023 to deliver some preliminary insights into the People’s Panel process to address the following research aims (RAs):
RA1. To provide a descriptive account of how the panel worked, its aims and design, the resources, roles, and people who were involved
RA2. To assess the quality of the impact of the panel on policy process, panel members, and the impact of the panel as a step towards more participatory approaches
RA3. To provide suggestions on how a People’s Panel with a wider remit could improve on this model in the future
A combination of documentary analysis, in-depth interviews and a focus group were used to address the research aims. Documents provided by the Scottish Government research team included the project proposal for the panel, project plans for each of the 6 events and interim reports. A total of 12 interviews were carried out, 6 with panel members and 6 with members of the policy community within the Scottish Government. Following the analysis of the interviews and key documents a focus group with the research team was organised to discuss some of the key findings and reflect on the People’s Panel process. The data was analysed in NVivo (qualitative analysis software) and the approach allowed for analysis of the data based on previous theory and for the analysis to surface new ideas and themes that came directly from the data.
- Panel members said that their involvement in the panel had an impact on them personally. Interviewees reported that they had benefited from hearing different views and perspectives. They felt this gave them a better awareness and understanding of society as it offered new and different insights into the issues that were discussed.
- Two panel members described feeling empowered by the process, and another said that they were more engaged in their local community as a result of their involvement in the panel.
- The use of a pre-event questionnaire, to understand the support needs of the panel members and the plain English and accessible language used in communication helped create a space in which panel members felt listened to and valued.
- Despite efforts by the research team, panel members who were interviewed were not always clear about the impact of the panel on policy making processes.
- Policy community interviewees gave some examples of how the input from the panel had impacted on their work including the development of a marketing campaign, and ensuring the accessibility of some of the guidance they were writing.
- The panel was described as offering a ‘rich evidence base’ from which policy makers could draw from more generally, rather than it having a specific and tangible impact on a single decision or policy.
- The key opportunity from which this work can develop is that there was a lot of positivity from the policy community and the panel members and clear enthusiasm for this approach within the research team. Interviews with the policy community and panel members indicate a desire for the People’s Panel approach to be a core part of policy making processes.
- Time should be taken to develop a clear set of outcomes for the People’s Panel approach so that these can be communicated consistently to panel members and wider policy stakeholders. These should be accompanied by a clear evaluation framework, informed by a Theory of Change. This would address some of the challenges highlighted in the research (for example, setting expectations about what impact can be achieved and providing evidence of such) and offer a way to build on the enthusiasm and opportunities also outlined in the findings.
- The need to offer ongoing feedback to the current People’s Panel members on the ways that their participation has had an impact on the work of the Scottish Government and some wider recognition of the role that the panel members have made. This might include the provision of references of a certification related to their role. This would require some resourcing which may be a challenge but would be important to consider in order to be in alignment with the best practice guidance that was written by the Poverty Alliance for the Poverty and Inequality Commission.
- To overcome some of the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities there needs to be ongoing and sustained conversations about the People’s Panel approach and the value it offers for evidence generation. This should include presentations on the People’s Panel approach, ensuring wide circulation of the publications related to this work and the development of training modules for inclusion on the staff intranet and as part of induction processes. A mentorship programme could also be started with those who worked on the first panel supporting those who want to learn more and perhaps develop the approach in other areas of the Scottish Government.
- Work with parts of Scottish Government pursing Scotland’s Open Government commitments, to ensure that there is clarity and consistency in the terminology being used across the organisation. This would also support the development of an understanding of the ways that the People’s Panel approach to generating evidence might link to ideas about participatory and deliberative approaches.
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