East Midlands: Working as a region on reducing parental conflict
This case study sets out how the East Midlands Reducing Parental Conflict Working Group developed local needs assessment data across 10 local authorities in the region, and completed intervention mapping and a theory of change for evaluating reducing parental conflict support. The project highlighted the value that working together as a region contributes both in support for colleagues doing new and challenging work, and the opportunity to share strengths and expertise.
The story of this project is told by group members: Debbie Jesson, Supporting Families programme manager at Nottinghamshire County Council; Adam Billson, Reducing Parental Conflict coordinator from Leicester City Council; Jane Impey, senior project officer, at Lincolnshire County Council; Suzanne White, senior early intervention co-ordinator – front door and partnerships at Rutland County Council; and Di Robertson, senior local development advisor at WWEICSC. The case study is written by Robyn Tulloch, project support officer at WWEICSC.
Our starting point
The 10 local authorities in the East Midlands have a culture of working together on projects. The East Midlands reducing parental conflict working group, which has met regularly since March 2020, has become a focus for a range of activities across the region, providing support to reducing parental conflict leads, and creating opportunities to share ideas and solve challenges together.
Members of the group see regional working as an opportunity to make the most of capacity and resources, and wanted to work with EIF on planning and evaluating their progress on reducing parental conflict:
“After the flurry of putting in funding bids, up against time scales and making quite tight decisions in a short space of time with not very much information, the opportunity to collect needs assessment and intervention mapping data was an opportunity to slow down and take stock.”
— Suzanne White, senior early intervention co-ordinator – front door and partnerships, Rutland County Council
“We were very conscious that we hadn’t looked at evaluation in enough detail and we wanted to be able to focus on that as a group.”
— Debbie Jesson, Supporting Families programme manager
Action taken and impact
Each local area collected a specified set of population data relevant to parental conflict, and shared this across the regional group. This was compiled as a single dataset so areas could compare across the region. The working group also created a survey to find out what interventions each area was providing, how they were provided and where there were duplications or gaps. This information was then analysed, and key themes were extracted.
A stakeholder event then provided an opportunity to analyse the data on needs and services, and to discuss the implications. All those involved were excited to see the similarities and differences between their local population data, interventions and approaches, and this supported discussion about how they might adapt their approach to reducing parental conflict and evaluate their impact.
All 10 local authorities also took part in a theory of change workshop to agree and develop a consistent evaluation approach across the region. The workshop used the findings of the needs assessment to agree why a regional evaluation project would be beneficial. The support mapping exercise was also helpful in highlighting the focus of the evaluation. A wide range of views were expressed in the workshop, and coming together in person to agree a way forward was an important part of the process. A member of the group took on writing the evaluation specification on behalf of the regional group.
Learning from the project
Despite the challenges of competing pressures and capacity issues as well as the tight timescale of the project, the local authorities completed the work successfully. Efficient, small, task-focused groups meant that people could choose how to participate according to their strengths and interests, which supported motivation and momentum. There were realistic timescales for tasks to be completed and a commitment to project milestones. Regular meetings with EIF kept the group on track and provided support and expertise when required.
There were strong trusting relationships between members of the group. The face-to-face workshop was an excellent opportunity to engage a wider group of staff and provided motivation for everyone involved. The project was seen as an example of the value of coming together, discussing work, sharing ideas, and helping each other through challenges and finding solutions.
Having a member of the group with expertise in data collection and dedicated time to support this work was very helpful for less experienced and less confident members of the group. This provided some security for the project and developed the knowledge and skills of others.
Collecting the data from the different sources was time consuming, but it was an interesting process to take part in and added value. If an area had the support of a data analyst, this made the task a lot easier. Considering the needs assessment evidence both at regional and local levels provided a collective understanding of the regional context as well as improved knowledge of neighbouring authorities.
“It was this coalescence of right time, right place, right mindset for it to really stretch us, and bring that focus in and feed into those wider plans around evaluation…It helped us get a lot further, in a shorter timescale, in a more structured way, than if we had worked as individual local areas.”
— Adam Billson, reducing parental conflict coordinator consultant
Furthermore, participating in the project made the voice of the regional group stronger.
“It’s important to do stuff regionally in terms of that power together, a bigger voice, a bigger, louder, stronger voice.”
— Jane Impey, senior project officer
Overall, the main reflection for future projects would be to allow more time for the individuals on the working group to participate, and to start the project earlier in the year.
On needs assessment data collection, this would include ensuring that those collecting data are clear about the mechanisms to do this; securing expert help from a data analyst where possible; and allowing sufficient time for discussions in workshops and workshop preparation, and for cross-local authority conversations.
On intervention and support mapping, this would include ensuring enough time and consideration is given to the detail of what you want to find out and understand when planning survey questions; using clear and specific language in survey questions; and trialling the survey externally before sending out to all partners. Use the relationship support pathway model in an individual local authority project to illustrate where there are gaps and opportunities in service provision or stakeholder engagement.
“We don’t use data anywhere near as much as we should throughout the lifetime of a piece of work, not just for needs assessment, but also for monitoring and evaluation. Interpreting data, what it could mean, and the implications for local areas. I think this project has potentially started something in terms of how we may do this going forward.”
— Adam Billson, Reducing Parental Conflict coordinator consultant
The Reducing Parental Conflict Regional Working Group will continue to meet regularly and plan work together, and data collected as part of this project will be shared locally to inform other service development areas such as Family Hubs.
Those leading on this work in the East Midlands acknowledge the need for work with families to be more relational, embodying the key message of being curious and conversational.
The theory of change workshop has enabled further discussion on a way forward with a regional approach to evaluation. This will include pooled funding to commission an evaluation project on the impact of training and of specialist interventions. The methodology will include staff and parent surveys, focus groups and in-depth interviews.