Recent Work & Archive

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 sharing.

What Matters to You (WM2U) is a community-based systems change initiative working alongside families in two communities in Dundee and East Ayrshire. It focuses on shifting public resources to offer support earlier, thereby enabling children to flourish within their own families.  Funded by BBC Children in Need and the Hunter Foundation.

Research for Real is part of a Learning Partner consortium with Animate and Symmetric Scenarios.  The role of a learning partner is to help the people and organisations involved to be able to reflect on their work and build understanding about the process of place-based systems change.  The practice of ‘learning as we go’ is a fundamental part of the ambition of WM2U.  We are developing an intentional and systemic approach to embedded and experiential learning to enhance the immediate work, explore impact, and generate wider learning about investment in prevention and service redesign.  See the WM2U website for more information and links.

Early Action System Change – Learning Support for the National Lottery Community Fund Partnerships in Scotland (2018-2023)

This set of six briefings provide insight into the importance and challenges of foregrounding learning in systems change work.  They draw on varied learning support, provided with Animate,  including action learning sets, regular huddles, events and webinars.  Our aim was to foster a culture of collaborative learning with the eight partnerships, so that information sharing, innovation and problem solving could take place in a supportive safe environment.

Learning in New Territories, Thematic Briefing No 1

From Consultation to Conversation, Thematic Briefing No 2

Learning As We Go: Early Action System Change  Thematic Briefing No 3

Exploring Our Thinking About Generating and Using Evidence in System Change Thematic Briefing No 4

Finding Our Way Through Complexity Thematic Briefing No 5

Is it ever too late to think about sustainability? Thematic briefing No 6

Collective Leadership for Scotland (CLfS) (2018-2022)

The work of CLfS has now been archived.  These two reports are available on their archived website here

How do we know we are doing good work?  Conversations about
the impact of our collective leadership (2022) 

The learning in this report draws on a wide range of evidence from across CLfS programmes between August 2020–July 2022.  It deepens understanding of some of the challenges of commissioning, convening, and the scope for deeper impact through building reflective and relational leadership practices. It also outlines social and experiential sensemaking and facilitation practices to strengthen the action inquiry approach as a deliberate learning strategy, building cultures that support new forms of collaborative inquiry and systemic action research.

Collective Leadership:  Where Nothing is Clear and Everything Keeps Changing, Exploring new territories for evaluation (2018)

Drawing on action research, this research paper recasts evaluation as ‘action inquiry’, an embedded evaluative learning practice that can help navigate complexity when enacting collective leadership.  Action inquiry can be helpful anywhere where success depends on the quality of relationships that can be developed. This paper is also available here.

Here’s a recent short video from One Thing At A Time Reading Circle session, May 2020

Ignite: a story of activating early action (2021)

Emma Bates, Sue Bent and Clare Wightman (Ignite) with Cathy Sharp (Research for Real)

“The human element was absolutely what it was all about.  The whole thing was about relationships.”  This reflective story of Ignite is likely to be of interest for anyone interested in the practice realities of early action or system change.  In talking about the things that were successful or difficult, unexpectedly, or otherwise, this account conveys the bumpy experience of being a third sector organisation trying to create change in wider systems.

My Home Life and Learning and Innovating from Everyday Excellence (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 has been a significant 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.   Many of the resources originally developed by My Home Life Scotland are now hosted by the My Home Life Charity UK.

Selective reports and briefings available on request.  Live links available below.

Putting the human into human rights with Belinda Dewar (UWS) and Fairfield Care Scotland, February 2020  As part of Life Changes Trust funded Rights Made Real we tested and refined the use of the Learning and Innovating from Everyday Excellence (LIFE) approach  Useful appreciative  method for anyone interested in how to move from stories to action.

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

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.

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

Appreciative Inquiry in Mid North Coast Local Health District, NSW, Australia

Varied facilitation support and co-design activities including;

  • Design and facilitation of 2-day Future Forming Workshops, using stories and appreciative dialogue
  • Development, piloting and briefing guidance on Learning and Innovating from Everyday Excellence (LIFE) sessions
  • Co-facilitation of an Appreciative Inquiry Retreat

A poem about Caring Conversations