School of Social and Political Science

Research project type

Exploring data and knowledge sharing in response to welfare reform and benefit sanctioning



Aims of the research project

Working in collaboration with a range of public service partners and third sector organisations in Scotland, this research project sought to better understand and improve public services in order to reduce inequalities.

This specific research project (2015-2019) focused on working with various practitioners and policy-makers in a town in Scotland with high levels of deprivation and inequality to improve service design and support for people affected by welfare reform, specifically benefit sanctioning (a process by which the state can remove a citizen’s access to social security payments).

The project was part of the work programme for the What Works Scotland (WWS) centre. WWS was a large research and knowledge exchange centre (2014-2019).

The project involved creating a team of practitioners (such as community workers, policy-officers, partnership managers, welfare rights advisors, charity workers, housing officers, civil servants) to investigate the effect of welfare reform at the local level.

With training, research guidance, and facilitation support from the academic researcher (Dr Hayley Bennett) the team choose to explore the following research questions:

  • How can we improve our knowledge of what data is available across partner agencies?
  • How can we use this to prevent people from being sanctioned?
  • How can we better support those who have been sanctioned?

Research methods and activities

Using a collaborative action research approach, the team of practitioner-researchers met 21 times to design the research process, undertake data collection and analysis, and produce a final report.

Throughout the process the team engaged in critical reflection on their practice and departmental processes, discussing solutions that could work across professional and organisational boundaries.

The team engaged in three key stages of data collection and reflection:

  • Interrogated statistics on benefit sanctioning in their locality. Received training and developed communication techniques to share data and trends with local decision-makers such as senior colleagues and politicians
  • Created a series of vignettes that outlined the work and cases they experienced regarding citizens who had received a benefit sanction and the support services they tried to access. These anonymised vignettes were central to multi-agency discussions around service design and assumptions about service needs.
  • The practitioner-researchers held a one-day event with 50 practitioners whose work was also affected by benefit sanctioning. The event involved presentations of locally relevant research, sharing of the data on benefit sanctions, and the use of the vignettes to aid group discussions.

The team produced blogs and a report about their learning and continued collaborations regarding benefit sanctions.

They spread their learning to other localities and influenced a range of decision-makers in their work areas to make a series of practical changes to local programmes and funding decisions.

The practitioners developed a better understanding of wider policy changes and issues, developed a shared understanding of local services and available data, improved relationships with neighbouring policy and practice areas, and identified a series of limitations and pressures that were outside of their control. 


  • Initial discussions on collaboration (March 2015-Sept 2015)
  • Establishing the practitioner-research team (Oct 2015-Feb 2016)
  • Undertaking the three stages of research (March 2016-Dec 2017)
  • Completion and sharing of reports and learning (June 2018) 


2015 - 2019

Further information

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