Local authority priorities: brokering knowledge in Adult Social Care
Too often, local authorities are ‘told’, ‘informed’ or ‘invited’ into academic spaces to hear about work researchers are proposing or have already done that might be beneficial for local decision-makers / policymakers to adopt. Dr Sarah Jasim (CPEC/NIHR ARC North Thames), Sam Martin (SSCR), Lucy Thompson (ARC NT) wanted to disrupt this style of static academic-policy exchange, and invited local authority staff across and surrounding London to participate in a World Cafe to hear their local priorities, first.
Developing the approach
With so many demands on their time it is often difficult for social care professionals to allocate dedicated time for research engagement. Adult social care research stands the greatest chance of impact when social workers and local authority and community colleagues work with researchers as part of the process. At present, there is limited infrastructure in London to broker knowledge between researchers and practitioners in a unified way, though there is a wealth of expertise across key academic partners in adult social care in London.
With Fiona Aspinal, Sarah undertook a series of consultations between 2020-2022 with local authority staff in their region who worked in adult social care, to ask about their existing capacity for research, research strategy / infrastructure, and research priorities. Sarah and Fiona received additional funding from UCL Research Culture to better understand how knowledge is exchanged in adult social care between local authority staff and researchers. Similarly, in South London, researchers from NIHR ARC South London have been consulting regularly with the Proud to Care Board of London ADASS (now fortnightly) about local research interests among other pressing priorities and so meeting some of their requests for evidence or reviews.
Local authority staff expressed great interest in meeting researchers at an in-person event to be able to make valuable connections, exchange information and share ideas.
What did we do?
We wanted to flip the script on the traditional format of academic presentations to non-academic audiences, and hear directly from local authorities about their priorities, knowledge gaps and ideas for research. The World Café principles of learning from frontline practitioners and local authority staff have worked well in other disciplines, but to our knowledge the approach has rarely been tested in the adult social care sector in London before. We therefore designed “Mind the Gap: London Boroughs’ ideas for adult social care research” to bring together local authority colleagues working in adult social care with researchers in the space, to share ideas and solutions to local evidence needs.
Self-nominated senior Local Authority colleagues in adult social care were given the opportunity to offer brief introductions to a theme that is particularly critical to their work or their local authority region. These introductions were followed by participants (local authority staff and researchers) moving between each topic table to discuss challenges and opportunities, and coming up with ideas for future work. The introductions provided a catalyst for conversations about how these processes might be implemented across multiple settings – for example, whether ideas could be applicable between domiciliary care to care home settings.
There were several challenges identified across all themes, which gave further food for thought about useful research focus areas, including: communication to service users; supporting culture change within an organisation; resourcing, and recruitment and retention of staff; and training and development in research. This was a valuable experience leading to knowledge exchange, and building relationships between local authority staff and researchers. As Shabnam Ahmed (Camden), said: “We need to be intentional in the way we engage with research – that means co-production at the earliest stages.”
There were two repeated sessions, with a networking lunch session to enable as many participants as possible to attend, and to allow time to exchange and share ideas outside of structured dialogue.
After receiving consent from participants, contact details were shared to assist future collaborations, with a promise of informal follow-ups and openness. It also created an opportunity for reflection; participants completed evaluation surveys enabling immediate feedback to be captured, and they will all be contacted in a month to further understand how the event may have led to successful knowledge sharing. This may support a learning culture – ensuring that despite their pressures, there is space created for local authority colleagues to engage in reflective practice for future improvement.
Attendees appreciated the space awarded to hearing different ideas and insights from other local authority settings; having professional debates; and broadening horizons in their own work. All of our attendees would recommend their colleagues to attend the event again, with many expressing a need for more networks between researchers and local authority staff in adult social care in London and the surrounding areas – which we would like to start building and developing.
Following the success from the event, the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at LSE will repeat the event in the future, to increase the opportunities available for local authority colleagues and researchers to come together to share ideas, and reflect on the challenges and opportunities they bring.
This work drew on the knowledge, experience and support of several organisations: NIHR ARC North Thames, NIHR ARC South London, NIHR CRN North West London, along with the NIHR School for Social Care Research, with support by London ADASS and the London Councils and hosted by CPEC at LSE. We would like to thank all those individuals and organisations involved in the event for their support.