Aberdeenshire’s Health and Social Care Partnership commissioned a project to design, develop and test a model of community engagement over the course of a year in Inverurie, through which local residents, health and social services could work together and, as a result of their combined efforts, achieve a collective impact on community wellbeing and health inequalities.

We adopted a bespoke, 'bottom-up' approach, intentionally strengthening local social networks and seeking to create the conditions for effective relationships to develop between local agencies, service providers and citizens.  Whilst this approach focused on community engagement and participation, through our understanding of the public sector context, we sought to move towards a replicable model with the possibility of bringing together the ‘communitarian’ and ‘technocratic’ in a single strategic approach.

Our approach was asset-based, design-led, informed by a ‘living systems’ perspective and recognised that the most effective community engagement occurs when the right conditions are created for a more effective 'coming together' of individual self-interest, public sector policy objectives and the social norms and connections within the community.

Our focus was on the simple and the practical, built on the principles of systems leadership:

  • create a positive disturbance - get noticed
  • begin a shared inquiry - good questions are attractive, they provoke fresh insights, enable new connections and begin to develop shared meaning
  • always connect the system to more of itself - this builds healthy, resilient systems where people have access to one another and trust emerges

By working in this way, our aim was to help to create the conditions for change within the community in order to pave the way for more effective collaboration between public services and the public they serve.