Exploring the relationships between evidence and innovation in the context of Scotland’s social services

Executive summary of report written by Jodie Pennachia
Published on 28 Nov 2013

Executive summary

This report uses theoretical, empirical and practice literatures and case studies to reflect on the links between evidence and innovation in the context of Scotland's social services. It bridges two of the core work streams at Iriss; evidence-informed practice and innovation and improvement.

The first section of this report provides the necessary context, with a consideration of the challenges facing Scotland's social services, and the reform agendas that have been ventured in response to these.

The second and third sections deal separately with evidence and innovation, providing an overview of the core debates surrounding their definition and conceptualisation.

Section four reflects on the different relationships between evidence and innovation, and the implications of these for practice. This is done through the theoretical and empirical literature in the first instance, and is followed by a detailed exploration of two practice case studies.

Summary of Key Findings

  1. Evidence and innovation are potentially complementary or antagonistic reform agendas depending on how these words are defined, conceptualised and mobilised.
  2. How evidence and innovation are defined, conceptualised and mobilised can have important implications for practice, particularly in relation to issues of implementation, risk and scale.
  3. It is likely that the meanings of, and relationships between, evidence and innovation varies and evolves during the process of implementing a new policy, and in the process of everyday practice.
  4. What counts as good or useful evidence is likely to be highly contextual, varying according to the immediate requirements of those involved at different stages of the innovation process. This means that quite different types of evidence may become useful and different points during the implementation process.
  5. The case studies reviewed here emphasise the view of evidence as an integrating vehicle for disparate types of knowledge and expertise. This includes theoretical and empirical research, practitioner wisdom and views, and the views and ideas of those who use services. In particular, the latter has been vital in the case studies reviewed, where the innovations in question have aligned with the Scottish Government's emphasis on service-user autonomy, personalisation and prevention. They accord with the view that "user-led" and "open" innovation processes "can develop better products and services at less cost than traditional, closed innovation processes" (Bunt and Harris, 2009, p. 4).
  6. We need individuals and organisations to document innovation processes in an honest, detailed way. Not only would this be of benefit to future projects on evidence and innovation, but it would also be extremely valuable to other individuals and organisations who are attempting their own innovations.

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Exploring the Relationships Between Evidence and Innovation in the Context of Scotland's Social Services (PDF)