How wee things make a big difference

Iriss activity review 2016/17

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Thoughts from our interim Director

We invite you to reflect on, and celebrate, our substantial achievements and learning to support the social services workforce to deliver better outcomes for people. The year has brought some change and challenge, but the team has continued to demonstrate its strengths of partnership working, creativity, supporting use of evidence and knowledge sharing. We are proud of our work which is undertaken by a team of dedicated staff and partners. Thanks to those who have supported our programme of work over the past year. We look forward to a future of strengthened energy and opportunity.

Statement from our Chairperson

This activity review details the progress taken forward by the talented Iriss team over the last 12 months. It presents the work the team has completed across the breadth of social services activities in Scotland. I would like to thank them for their excellent work, and partners for their valuable support.

2016/17 at a glance

Last year in numbers

Where we worked

Across 2016/17, we worked with…

  • 2 universities
  • 3 intermediaries
  • 3 independent sector
  • 6 local authorities
  • 11 third sector
  • 25 organisations in total!

Our reach

In the last year we…

  • Worked with 380 people (across our projects)
  • Ran 19 Iriss events reaching 415 people
  • Ran 9 partner events
  • Attended 36 sector events and contributed to 20

Just writing to say thank you for taking part in Holyrood’s Evidence-based Policy and Practice seminar … the evaluations and the feedback for your session has been really positive.

Thank you for your time, energy and expertise today in running a very stimulating, interesting and fruitful session on ‘Failshare’ around the neighbourhood clinic.

Social media


    Up 543 from the previous year
  • 3,930 impressions for our most popular tweet
    It got 17 retweets too

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Mailing list

  • 2,583 subscribers
    Up 321 from previous year

Sign up to our mailing list

Iriss website 2016/17

In 2016 we refreshed our website to better express our voice, values and work, which people tell us is creative, dynamic and inspiring. Over the past year it's had:

  • 180,715 users
  • 74.9% new visitors
  • 25.1% returning visitors
  • 420,009 page views
  • 197 countries


In the last year we've published:

  • 2 new Iriss Ons
    …one on Risk and another on Tools.

Explore our publications and resources

  • 177 episodes since inception
  • 34 in 2016/17
  • 23 in 2015/16
  • 41 in 2014/15
  • 45 in 2013/14
  • 34 in 2012/13
  • 1,880 total plays

Our most popular episode to date is: Attachment focused therapy for children and young people

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The difference we’ve made

Our work in detail

Our work supports Partnerships for the future: Iriss strategy 2015–2018 and the delivery of the Social services in Scotland: a shared vision and strategy 2015–2020.

What follows is a detailed look at some of our favourite projects from the last year…

The Big Idea (in Falkirk)

A project to explore new kinds of collaborative relationships between people who live and work within a community (Falkirk - Maddiston and Rumford).

New learning

  • Local organisations and community groups are now aware of each other and have knowledge of how to work together more effectively
  • Partners have a deeper understanding of the process and practicalities of place-based working
  • There is increased knowledge around the hopes and needs of people living in Maddiston and Rumford

Changes in practice

  • Organisations are working with communities in ways that engage individuals, and listen to a wider range of people
  • There has been a move from partners 'consulting' with people to 'engaging' more creatively
  • There are there are five local projects in the area; groups who had never previously worked together are now collaborating

Outcomes met

  • The community views the activity positively and values the engagement in the local area
  • Individuals, organisations and communities are using their assets to improve support; creation of an asset map is underway

Lesson learned

Modelling a place-based approach is difficult. The principles and values of co-production and partnership that underpin this way of working are crucial, but it takes time and sustained commitment from those involved. In saying that, when it works and people come together to produce something tangible and valuable, it is extremely rewarding.


From the initial development of the project ideas, to identification of methods and development of questions, Iriss has proven to be professional, driven and experienced. They have enabled the progress of the project from day one, providing a strategic overview which has perfectly matched with the local knowledge and outlooks of the working group.

More about The Big Idea (in Falkirk)

Service engagement and improvement

A project delivered in partnership with a team of inspectors at Care Inspectorate to improve engagement, focusing on the intersection between service delivery and service inspection.

New learning: Care Inspectorate

  • Increased understanding of how inspection activity leads to improvement
  • Staff feel involved and able to share their experience of improvement

Changes in practice: services

  • Stronger engagement with involved services and people who access services
  • Increased engagement and interaction between services and families and carers
  • Services feel able to influence direction of Care Inspectorate improvement strategy

Outcomes met

  • Partnership working is not just tokenistic; there is improved understanding between Iriss and Care Inspectorate and a strengthened MOU
  • Iriss has increased its influence around improvement at a national level
  • The work contributes to overall Care Inspectorate improvement strategy

Lesson learned

Inspectors and services had a shared vision for improvement which didn't focus on performance, but rather on the improved experience and outcomes of the people supported by services across Scotland.

More about Service engagement…

Supporting female offenders

Action programme to co-design relational tools to support female offenders and service delivery across women's justice services.

New learning: practitioners

  • Knowledge and skills around facilitating the co-designed intervention
  • Knowledge about the application of co-designed project in WCJCs
  • Skills and confidence to replicate and adapt this process

New learning: women

  • Knowledge and skills around facilitating the co-designed intervention

New learning: Iriss

  • Impact and management of short projects which aims to affect and embed change
  • Application of co-design in women’s justice services
  • Design, enactment and use of roles, activities and tools that support and enable people to engage with the co-designed intervention

Changes in practice: practitioners

  • Improved communication between the practitioners and other women who access services

Outcomes met

  • Individuals and practitioners worked together to shape support
  • Engagement has led to new perspectives and learning
  • Improved relationships between the women and the practitioners
  • Stronger relationships among the women who access the service
  • Systems are more responsive to both the practitioner and women’s needs

Lesson learned

Relationships aren't always service-focused. Women knew each other through a series of complex interpersonal webs, and had online and in-person relationships that had the potential to be positive or negative.


Before I thought… I’m not doing something like that, but I enjoyed it
(woman in the group)

I like the sense of validation… this is our group even though we were made to come here at the beginning... It’s our group and our thoughts and opinions matter
(woman in the group)

Imagining the future (ITF)

A meeting of the Future Systems Leadership community of practice to further explore and develop systems leadership.

New learning

  • Refreshed awareness and understanding of the ITF tools and approach
  • Increased knowledge about the role of solution-focused approaches
  • Increased awareness and knowledge about the challenges of individual projects
  • Increased awareness and knowledge about enablers and what facilitated these
  • Increased learning from ‘failure’ and vulnerability
  • Shared examples, models, case studies and frameworks provided by network members

Changes in practice

  • Increased engagement and participation in the network and Iriss
  • Increased sharing of intelligence about leadership, change, evidence and innovation
  • Support each other - open to providing opportunities across organisations

Outcomes met

  • Individual group members have experienced the value of the ITF programme in relation to recognising and building on their own strengths
  • Individuals’ perspectives have changed and developed as a result of engagement

Lesson learned

The group are in demanding roles and are, therefore, time poor, so it’s quite challenging to organise face-to-face meetings.


I can’t put a value on the experience I gain from being in the same room and engaging in discussions with this group.

I will question my own self-limiting beliefs a bit more.

More about ITF

BYOE (Bring Your Own Enquiry)

A project to support cross-organisational teams to collaboratively address and act on an issue that they have identified (using Community of Enquiry approach).

New learning: practitioners

  • Increased awareness of issues across their own organisation
  • Increased awareness of what can be done to progress these issues
  • Better understanding of what supports are available
  • Knowledge around how they can use their own experience as evidence
  • Understanding of the Community of Enquiry process and enough knowledge to use this approach themselves

Changes in practice

  • Improved use of reflection tools

Outcomes met

  • There is increased understanding of different organisational perspectives across the team and the organisation. Two organisational teams were taken through a practical technique to explore evidence and ask conceptually rich questions.

Still to achieve:

  • Encourage evidence-informed and conceptual thinking, strategies and practice
  • Develop a process of taking evidence and conversation and enacting change together

Lesson learned

The cross-organisational teams loved the opportunity to think, talk and explore together in a safe space. After this has happened, the key is now to see those voices being heard and actions being taken.


I think it’s now about bringing policies, procedures and structures up to date with this type of conversation and to see what we can do to encourage this.

Partner comment:

I found the [Community of Enquiry] process really helpful, all joking aside about it being a Friday and a heavy day, this has given me a lift for the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been helpful to reflect on why we come in and do what we do. I’ve really valued being here.


A project for practitioners to share experiences, evidence, discoveries and successes (SEEDS).

New learning

  • Increased knowledge about Iriss’ resources, tools, approaches and support
  • Discussion about, and sharing of knowledge, on topics and issues such as eligibility criteria and critical need

Changes in practice

  • Increased knowledge sharing around key issues and topics
  • Increased engagement of group members with Iriss

Outcomes met

  • Individual group members have seen the value of SEEDS in sharing what works or not
  • Individuals’ perspectives have been influenced positively from engagement in SEEDS

Lesson learned

There is still a need for creating spaces and frameworks within which people from across the sector and beyond can network, share knowledge and inspire each other. However, you need a topic to generate real interest; a hook to hang it all on.


What inspired participants:

Hearing about the (effort and) strategies people have developed to get around obstacles, and secure improvement.

The willingness of people to become involved in discussion (even in areas they are not familiar with), the openness of differing professionals. Also not afraid to say what’s working and what’s not.


A project that co-designed seven pathways to self-directed support. Pathways over 2016/17 focused on living well and substance misuse recovery.

New learning: practitioners and/or recipients of care

  • Improved access to information and support with planning and managing SDS
  • Aware of the diversity of needs, assets and aspirations in people who use services
  • Improved understanding of the health and social care system and confidence to engage with it

Changes in practice: practitioners and/or recipients of care

  • Improved planning and better support to achieve personal outcomes
  • Increased social inclusion and access to community activities
  • Improved opportunities to influence work culture and practice
  • Use of creative tools to solve problems and enable greater involvement in practice
  • Involve more people who access support in developing services

Outcomes met

  • The project co-designed, tested and refined a model for successful power sharing, produced tools and resources and developed solutions for the implementation of self-directed support
  • People involved found their voices and were listened to as equal partners
  • Organisational structures and systems are more responsive to individuals

Lesson learned

Mapping and sharing knowledge and information about community assets is essential for strengths based approaches to self-directed support conversations and planning.


I already knew a fair bit about it [self-directed support] but what it did do was explode some of the myths and it ties it all in together. Before, at times, there's a thing where the patient is who I need to focus on, and the carer can get left behind. The team is more aware of self-directed support. We're trying to increase people's awareness.

I now know much more about health and social care teams and their roles.

It's given us the carers' assessment, the new appointment letters and a dementia toolkit. It's taken on board what carers and patients have said.

More about Pilotlight

Personal learning networks

An online course for students of social work that promotes use of the web and social media to improve use of information and evidence.

New learning: students

  • Personal learning networks (PLN) is recognised as a good model for learning
  • Social media can support the serendipitous nature of finding information
  • Increase in knowledge and understanding around policy (e.g. GIRFEC) and topics (e.g. permanence)
  • PLN offers an alternative way of learning for people with conditions such as dyslexia
  • Social media supports one to keep up-to-date with new tips, ideas, practices and policies
  • Access to alternative viewpoints which can challenge one to think more critically
  • Importance of digital literacy recognised
  • Social media gives voice to those who may be less inclined to contribute to face-to-face interactions
  • Changed perspectives on social media and the ‘bad name’ that it often gets
  • Benefits of professional rather than purely personal use of social media recognised

Changes in practice: students

  • Social media is being integrated into everyday practice
  • Information is managed more effectively through social bookmarking
  • Students are more proactive online in seeking help of peers/others
  • Some students have set up their own groups to share ideas and pose questions
  • Social media is facilitating collaboration on projects
  • Valuable, diverse learning networks are being created
  • There is increased interaction and sharing with colleagues

Outcomes met

  • For the students, the course stimulated a culture of self-directed learning
  • Iriss and partners (universities) understand 'what works' re running online courses
  • Students are informed and empowered and have attained new social media skills
  • There is increased use of social media, and therefore, connections and learning for the students involved

Lesson learned

Students of social work are under pressure to complete coursework/placement and so it’s important to get their buy-in to the programme and to time it correctly to achieve participation.


I can guarantee that without this gentle push into the social media world I would not have considered it…. This will be invaluable for my further development and education in the years to come as a social work student.

At the start of this course I was rather against any participation which involved social media. This was mainly because I have only had negative experiences with regards to Facebook in the past. However as the weeks have progressed I have seen the benefits from this process. I have started to follow a select category of other social media users on Twitter that are specific to the needs and topics that I find relevant…

Partner comment:

It was great to work with Iriss around Personal Learning Networks to help encourage new social work undergraduate students to begin to explore the potential of the web, including social media, in aiding and contributing to their professional development.
(Graham McPheat, University of Strathclyde)

The view from here

Sharing the experiences of the social services workforce.

New learning: practitioners

  • Aware of new, creative techniques and exercises to bring to the workplace
  • Aware of how they 'feel' about their role rather than just what they 'think' about it
  • Informed on how storytelling can help build relationships with people
  • Aware of overlap of professional and personal life and its impact
  • Understand the power of communicating feelings creatively
  • View creative writing as a vehicle for storytelling
  • Understand how music and creative writing could be used to communicate with people with learning disabilities, such as speech impairment
  • Creative writing facilitates empathic practice - being able to get ‘into the shoes’ of others
  • Awareness around therapeutic impact of creative process
  • Offered ‘refreshed’ thinking in workplace

New learning: Iriss

  • Creative storytelling encourages and develops resilience in practitioners
  • It’s important that the voices of the workforce are heard

Changes in practice: practitioners

  • Use of creative exercises for training - on wellbeing and recovery (music group)
  • Increased reflection on practice
  • More confidence communicating feelings and being in 'conversation'
  • Use of creative exercises for report writing in relation to children’s hearings

Outcomes met

  • The creative process supported the development of new perspectives on how practitioners felt about their practice
  • Practitioners could see the value of creative activities for working with people

Lesson learned

Creative activities can be cathartic for practitioners and inform and support their practice.


Magical experience to be in an environment where you feel safe with your own vulnerabilities and to be personally able to express stuff that you don’t think of from day to day. It’s been terrific!

…foster care population and children engaging in life story will benefit from ‘refreshed’ thinking.

More about The view from here

What’s next?

We will continue to support and develop the knowledge, skills and capacity of the social services workforce in Scotland. We are always learning from the work we do, and strive to try out new ways of working, reflect on what works and what doesn’t, and share our learning.

It's been a great year

© 2017 Iriss. All rights reserved. The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Iriss) is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland: No 313740. Scottish Charity No: SC037882. Registered Office: Brunswick House, 51 Wilson Street, Glasgow, G1 1UZ.