Find the connections

Few would argue against the desirability of an evidence-based
approach to policy, management and practice. Yet it is unlikely
that the explicit and rigorous use of evidence is widespread. At
the most recent Integrated Care Network (ICN) national conference,
delegates examined the evidence-based approach to partnership and
integration issues.

One of the difficulties in bringing research and practice closer
together is the belief that research is an elitist activity that
can only be undertaken by academic researchers, which reflects the
dominance of the randomised control trial method. While the latter
may be the most appropriate method for medical research, it is
difficult to use it in researching partnership and integration
where the variables are harder to control, the context is more
complex and causation is hard to determine.

Sometimes the evidence-based approach is thought about in linear
terms -Êresearch generates ideas that are implemented by the
field. But practitioners often turn to research to validate an
approach that has already been decided.

Partnership and integration provide a case in point. Theories
and empirical research on these areas have been around since the
early 1960s, especially in the USA, but the belated interest in the
UK stems from the current policy emphasis on joint working.

There are three levels at which research can help our
understanding about partnership.

First, there is the level of grand theory – playing with
abstract ideas to develop general ideas about how things work, such
as societies, organisations and welfare states. Marxism and
feminism are examples of grand theories. Probably the best-known
debate is around the nature of market, network and hierarchy as
different – though not mutually exclusive – ways of co-ordination.
Much is made of the extent to which, for example, we have moved
from a hierarchical approach (command and control of “Old Labour”)
to one based upon the market (privatisation seen under the Thatcher
and Major regimes of the 1980s and 1990s), and now the network
model (partnerships based upon goodwill and trust as part of New
Labour’s Third Way). But this debate is in danger of being too
general to be of value to practitioners.

The second level (and the strongest tradition in the UK) is that
of empirical research – fact-finding with a view to seeing if joint
working is effective. There will be countless examples of this
approach across all user groups, conducted by academics and
“in-house” staff. This can generate useful data for local purposes,
but runs the risk of resulting in a lot of facts but not much
explanation. So we know what happens but not why. What can be done
with this information depends upon whether empirical research is
part of a bigger picture.
It is at the third level – middle range theory – that the most
fruitful intersections between research and practice can be found.
Here concepts are devised so that they help in day-to-day
understanding. All agencies, for example, are exhorted to use a
“whole systems” approach, but there is a lack of understanding
about what this means. If policy managers and practitioners looked
at the relevant research a whole systems approach would make sense
and practice and management would be more coherent.

Three workshops at the conference looked at ways in which
research, policy and practice had come together . What is evident
from these examples is that researchers and practitioners have
worked together in fruitful ways.

With the partnership and integration agenda affecting all parts
of public sector activity, practitioners also need to make
connections to wider experiences and ideas. Moreover, the move
towards registration status for social workers surely carries with
it an obligation to take greater responsibility than in the past
for personal professional development. The message for any local
practitioner is “your problem is almost certainly being faced by
someone else”. Failure to make the right sorts of connections runs
the risk of re-inventing the partnership wheel, and failing to
maximise the likelihood of effective practice.

Durham access programme: older people and people with a
physical or sensory impairment

The practice

  • Spans social services, community  health services and
  • Co-located integrated teams with  common policies and
  • Single team management.
  • Integrated support services, joint information systems, and
    joint performance management review.
  • Partnership board setting strategy and priorities.
  • Pooled budgets.

The research  

  • To see if integrated teams are making a difference.
  • Used a whole systems framework.
  • Partnership assessment tool to measure interagency
  • Team assessment process to measure inter-professional
  • Documentation, questionnaire, semi-structured
  • Internal data on performance management. 

Cumbria: mental health services for older

The practice

  • Aims to increase the range and scope of community-based
  • Aims to reduce excessive reliance on institutional care.
  • Aims to achieve greater territorial justice in service
  • Aims to change the local balance of care. 

The research

  • To find out if the mix of services available is correct.
  • Local data collected of the experiences of clients, carers and
  • Data collected on current service patterns and

Reorganisation of children’s services in

The practice

  • Review of services for children, young people and their
  • A focus on the intersections between services.
  • Identification of key themes: integrated services,
    localisation, information sharing, joint HR and performance
  • Creation of Northumberland Families and Children’s Trust.

The research

  • To find out pressure points on services such as loss of support
    when child changes schools
  • Questionnaires sent to schools, voluntary organisations and
    public sector teams to see where joint working was successful,
    followed up with case studies.
  • Focus groups.
  • Performance data.


This article reports on a Good Practice: Developing an Evidence
Base conference held by the Integrated Care Network to develop
effective working in partnership and integration. The need to take
a broad interpretation of what constitutes research is emphasised,
and three levels of thinking about joint working are identified.
Examples of local practitioner-researcher programmes are

Further Information

Presentations and papers relating to this ICN event are
available on the website:

For further information on the Durham Access Programme contact
Alan Inglis, project manager:

For further information on the Cumbria Mental Health Programme
contact Sue Tucker: 

For further information on Northumberland FACT contact Jeremy

ICN has recently published a series of Briefing Papers that
explore key partnership and integration issues. These are freely
available as downloads or as hard copy, and include: Culture in
Partnerships by Professor Edward Peck and Alix Crawford, Integrated
Working: A Guide by Peter Thistlethwaite, Whole Systems Working by
Professor Bob Hudson

Contact the Author

Bob Hudson can be contacted at: 

Bob Hudson is visiting professor of partnership studies
in the school of applied social sciences, University of Durham. He
has written and researched on partnership issues for the past 20
years, and is a specialist adviser to the House of Commons
education and skills select committee on issues relating to
partnership and integration. This article was co-authored with
Maureen Allan, director of the Integrated Care Network and Alix
Crawford, manager of the Integrated Care Network.

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