Recent Work

We work in a variety of public and third sector organisations, networks and communities where social outcomes and social responsibility matter.   Our action research approach offers a structure and facilitative process to support on-going learning throughout a change programme.  This might be about almost any social issue, organisational or community concern.  Here are some recent examples that encompass leadership development, caring conversations, appreciative action research and assets-focused work, as well as service evaluations and support for ‘story gathering’.

My Home Life, a UK-wide Leadership Support and Community Development Programme to promote quality of life for those living, dying, visiting and working in care homes. My Home Life Scotland

My Home Life continues to be an important part of our work and provides valuable experience of using appreciative inquiry and positive caring conversations as an approach to leadership development and whole system change.

Items of particular interest may include:

Personal Outcomes A video in which Dr Cathy Sharp & Karen Barrie discuss Personal Outcomes at the National Care Home Research & Development forum meeting held at the University of the West of Scotland Hamilton Campus on 25th May 2017.

2016 Briefing Papers issued to mark 10 years of the My Home Life programme

What’s great about care homes in East Ayrshire?  A digital story

Validation reports from recent MHL cohorts, including care home managers, care at home, and health and social care professionals from the NHS and voluntary sector

Forming New Futures Through Appreciative Inquiry, IRISS Insight No 33, By Cathy Sharp, Belinda Dewar and Karen Barrie, August 2016

This short report revisits Appreciative Inquiry and suggests that, as an approach to action research, it offers a powerful contribution to meeting the appetite for real change that is evident across public services in Scotland.  More mature understandings of appreciative inquiry, beyond a simplistic focus on positivity, can help to us to see old issues in new ways and offer fresh and welcome ways to challenge the status quo.  Appreciative inquiry is both a personal and professional practice that has many applications across health and social care. This includes working with individuals or groups of people including staff and people that use services.  This Insight provides some examples and highlights some of the practices, strengths and limitations of the approach.

IRISS have also published an IRISS FM roundtable discussion on the topic of Appreciative inquiry (AI).  This discussion covers in some detail what AI is and how it has been used in health and social care. Participants include the authors of the evidence summary – Cathy Sharp (Research for Real) and Belinda Dewar (University of the West of Scotland); as well as Alison Upton (SSSC) and Robin Jamieson (SCDC). Kerry Musselbrook (Iriss) introduces and chairs the discussion.

Is this the best it can be? A reflective toolkit for artists,  arts organisations, partners  and participants, Creative Scotland, 2016

This toolkit aims to open up conversation within partnerships about what is important and what can  be improved. It doesn’t try to define or limit an understanding of what good work is. Rather it aims to help those using the tools to openly discuss what they’re doing – asking themselves, and all those they work with, to think about whether they can do what they do in better ways. The goal is to encourage  a culture of reflection and continuous improvement.   The ideas and approaches in ‘is this the best it can be?’ were developed from desk research and  action research, with seven pilot partnerships of artists, partners and participants using the tools  and sharing learning.

Guidance notes and tools are available to download here.

Action Research – Inquiry for Better Times, Keynote Speaker, Leapfrog Summer School, The Glasgow School of Art, Forres, Scotland, July 2016

CS5-b“….It is important that action researchers don’t fall in to a trap of ‘embracing a new Methodism, viewing the practice of a specialised set of methods as an end in itself’; rather that we view action research as an approach to inquiry, rather than a methodology….”


Peer reviewed writing

Book chapters and journals

Sharp, C., Dewar, B., Barrie, K and Meyer, J (2017) How being appreciative creates change – theory in practice from health and social care in Scotland, Action Research

Sharp, C and Dewar, B. (2017) Learning in Action: Extending Our Understanding of Appreciative Inquiry, in Zuber-Skerrett, O (ed) Conferences as Sites of Learning and Development: Using Participatory Action Learning and Action Research Approaches, Routledge

Dewar, B., McBride, A and Sharp, C (2017) Person-centred research, in McCormack, B and McCance, T Person-Centred Practice in Nursing and Health Care (2nd ed.) Wiley-Blackwell

Book reviews

Sharp, C (2016) Book review of The sage encyclopedia of action research, Action Learning: Research and Practice

Sharp, C (2015) Book Review of Klev, R and Levin, M. (2012) Participative transformation learning and development in practising change, in Action Learning: Research and Practice, Volume 12, Issue 2, May 2015

Practising Collaborative Leadership: Reflection and Learning from the Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme, with What Works Scotland, June 2016

This report describes the Pioneer Programme, an example of collaboration between a group of public service leaders to develop a learning and development ‘offer’ to support collaborative leadership in public services.  Pioneer is a Workforce Scotland programme, for the  Scottish Leaders Forum: a network of senior leaders from central and local government, public services and the third sector.

Pioneer is explicitly experimental in its approach to working and learning in collaboration, through action inquiry.  Many of the challenges described here are shared by other partnerships seeking to work across traditional boundaries and integrate different professional and service cultures.

Animating Assets, with SCDC and GCPH

The final report Positive Conversations, Meaningful Change and two digital stories from this work are now available here on the GCPH website.

‘Animating Assets’ was a collaborative action research and learning programme facilitated by the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) with Research for Real and Animate as associates, between March 2014 and September 2015.

This helped to develop practical understandings of what the jargon of ‘assets’ really means and how taking a deliberately appreciative and collaborative approach can help voluntary and statutory sector organisations work alongside local people to bring the ideals of policy to life, with the ultimate goal of promoting greater health and social wellbeing and tackling inequalities.  There’s lots of learning here about processes of engagement, facilitation and genuine co-production and partnership.

Living Leadership Lothian was a shared workforce development programme designed to enable leaders across sectors to work together more effectively, by creating a community of dialogue and learning. It addressed the challenges of implementing person-centred and asset-based approaches, as part of public service reform. Very relevant for those interested in health and social care integration.  “It’s all in the mix” An evaluation of the Lothian Living Leadership Programme

Getting Better by Design  Evaluation of a programme to support the voluntary sector in Scotland, Jo Kennedy and Cathy Sharp, May 2015

Better by Design was developed in 2013 by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland in response to the complex and changing landscape for voluntary sector organisations delivering services on the ground with people or communities.  Here’s a link to our learning partner report.

Taking Account of Change, Measuring the Impact of Space Unlimited, April 2013 Report available here

Caring to Ask – How to embed caring conversations into practice across North East Glasgow 

This report arises from the recent practice inquiry into Inequalities Sensitive Practice (ISP) in the  north east sector of the Glasgow Community Health Partnership, in collaboration with the Glasgow  Centre for Population Health.    It reports on the experience and learning from that inquiry and sets  out an approach to build on the initial progress to deepen and extend the reach of approaches to  appreciative conversations trialled in three settings during 2013.

Cedar (Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery) – an evaluation of the pilot for the National Cedar Partnership and Scottish Women’s Aid

“We thought they didn’t see” Cedar in Scotland – Children and Mothers Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery, Final report of an action research evaluation, June 2011

Cedar Interim Evaluation Report May 2010 Cedar Interim Evaluation Report, May 2010

See also Children Living with Domestic Abuse, Briefing for the Scottish Child Care and Protection Network, SCCPN, 2011

Modest and mighty: stories of health and well being from Langside and Linn, Participatory Action Research with Langside and Linn Health Forum, South East Glasgow.

The improvement of public sector delivery: supporting evidence based practice through action research, Scottish Executive Health Department/Social Research.