Recent Work and 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.

Early Action System Change – Learning Support for the National Lottery Community Fund Partnerships in Scotland

Working with Animate, we provide varied learning support include action learning sets, regular huddles, events and webinars.  Our aim is to foster a culture of collaborative learning with the eight partnerships, so that information sharing, innovation and problem solving are able to take place in a supportive safe environment. These briefings provide insight into the importance and challenges of foregrounding learning in systems change work.

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

Collective Leadership – Exploring new territories for evaluation

Drawing on action research, this 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.

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

Making Recovery Real – What can we do with our stories?

A series of review reports for the Scottish Recovery Network that highlight how people with lived experience and those with professional skills can learn together to achieve the best possible wellbeing for people.  Co-production in action.

Leadership for Integration – NHS Education for Scotland, SSSC and RCGPS

Research for Real is the Learning Partner for this leadership development programme for health and social care professionals.  A series of evaluation reports and a summary of learning of Phase 1 is available here and show how the programme supports health and social care integration in Scotland.  Annex 2 and 4 of the main report contain the stories from programme participants.

Learning and Innovating from Everyday Excellence (LIFE)

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

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:

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.

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

Other care home work

Reducing Pressure Ulcers in Care Homes Improvement Programme – Case Studies, Scottish Patient Safety Programme, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, 2017

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….”

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.