This week’s guest blog is by Jane South, Professor of Healthy Communities at Leeds Beckett University and National Adviser on Communities for Public Health England. Jane outlines the benefits and challenges to using practice examples to measure community wellbeing.

What can we learn from practice examples?

I don’t know how many times that I’ve been asked ‘have you got any good examples of how this works?’. Curiosity about what others are doing can undoubtedly lead to valuable insights into the ‘how’ of promoting individual and community wellbeing.  Last year Public Health England published their collection of community-centred practice examples on Public Health England’s Knowledge and Library Services online.

It is now possible to access summaries of real life public health projects that have been written up by those involved in development or delivery. Each practice example covers why the project was initiated, setting, aims, activities and outcomes. A key section is ‘What did we learn?’ and each example has a contact name with links to reports and other resources. The collection is part of a suite of resources around healthy communities and community centred approaches for health and wellbeing produced by Public Health England.

Reflecting the bigger picture

What’s really noticeable about this collection is the diversity of community-centred practice. Who can resist finding out what ‘HenPower’ is (and yes it does involve chickens) or ‘Aunty Pam’s peer volunteer scheme’? The practice examples do reflect the significance of social context, and the strengths and needs of specific communities. This type of information is not well represented in the formal evidence base, as systematic reviews and effectiveness studies usually aim to produce generalisable conclusions. Our early road testing confirmed that commissioners and practitioners really appreciated information about the journey taken in developing projects and contextual information helped them to judge relevance to their area.  

Challenges to providing rigorous evidence

The organic, messy nature of community-centred practice can generate transferable learning that is worth sharing. But that presents challenges for those of us in the evidence world in terms of appropriate methods to gather and report on practice-based case studies. What you see today on Public Health England Knowledge and Libraries site is the result of a two-year multidisciplinary project, which included developing a template and checklist. Behind the scenes, we grappled with questions like:

  • How do we select examples?
  • Is there a threshold for evidence?
  • Should they represent ‘good practice’ and how would we know?
  • What is the balance between standardised reporting and having examples written by people with first hand involvement?
  • How should examples be reviewed and signed off?

All of these methodological issues are fundamentally about handling different types of knowledge.  And that’s certainly interesting territory for anyone wanting to capture evidence from community-based wellbeing projects in a systematic way.  

Complementing the evidence

Thinking more widely about the value of community-centred practice examples, I am excited by the potential to accelerate the spread of learning about successful approaches to building better community wellbeing. We know place and context matter for wellbeing and these examples can complement systematic review evidence on effective community-level interventions to improve social relations. Practice examples can provide particularly helpful insights when communities facing stigma and social exclusion are involved in project development.  Ultimately, it’s all about recognising the art as well as the science of community wellbeing.

A What Works Centre is a bridge between knowledge and action that puts the needs and interests of users and stakeholders at the heart of what we do.  

We are independent, collaborative, evidence based, open, practical and iterative.

We develop and share knowledge from research, policy, practice and people themselves (see public dialogues) with the aim of working together to fill the evidence gaps, get more of what’s known to work happening in practice and ultimately improve wellbeing here in the UK.

We aim to reflect the global knowledge base in a comparable way, and the knowledge from practice – both to see how things are being done in a way that makes it real for others trying to do the similar things and for researchers to see where people are doing interesting things that are ripe to study.  

In the spirit of iteration and collaboration we are working with others to improve how practice examples can best be collected and used.

Practice examples from higher education

Business practice examples

Wellbeing in small business - practice examples