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Update on CommonHealth Assets Project

Updated: Jun 14

As project lead of a brilliant team and as we embark on our third and final year of our research, I feel moved to blog again! 


I have just returned home from a stimulating meeting of the project management team, hosted by our colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast, and an inspiring meeting of our lived experience panel hosted by Colin Neighbourhood Partnership, one of the community led organisations we are working with and without whom we would not be doing this research. 


Achievements in our first 2 years

The meeting gave us a chance to review our achievements – and we’ve managed to do a lot in 2 years.   The study design is complex illustrated by the diagram on our project home page.   There are lots of moving parts!   Sometimes that has felt a little dizzying (think plates spinning) as many things are moving at once and we have set ourselves a complex task in terms of study design.   As we talked I felt less spinning and more connecting cogs – I think it might be coming together!   


Sub teams have taken leadership on various components of work, including synthesising the literature, policy analysis, participatory photography, survey design and stakeholder interviews and workshops.  In recent months we have also progressed our ‘sustainability and scale’ data collection.  It is reaching a point where  the jigsaw is starting to take shape.


Stakeholder workshops with our colleagues from community organisations on programme theories have been well attended, enthusiastic and energising.  We are grateful to all those who came and shared their insights and experience. We’ll be engaging in more discussions in months to come.


Our lived experience panel has been vital to the way in which we design and conduct our research.   The panel has been a commited and expert source of guidance as well as our study steering committee.



One of the great achievements, that our researchers and community partners can be very proud of, is the extent to which their hard work and relationship building has maintained the commitment of our research partner organisations and our participants.   Our longitudinal survey has exceeded retention targets at 6 months (aiming for 252 we have 298 survey respondents still with us – much to the envy of research colleagues who are used to much higher drop out rates). We appreciate the levels of commitment from each and every one of our partners, participants and panel members.


Challenges – programme theories

The biggest challenge now is to co-ordinate our work in such a way that all the parts of the project ‘speak to each other’, connected through our programme theories.   With 14 CLO sites, across 3 countries, a large research team and data collected from well over 300 participants, it’s a big task.   


In realist research, the programme theories explain how things work.  We look for ‘causal mechanisms’: what works, for whom, in what contexts and how. 



In the CHA project, we are trying to explain three things

i)                    Do CLOs impact on health and wellbeing, how, by what mechanisms, in what contexts and at what costs are outcomes achieved?

ii)                  Which approaches are scalable and which are specific local solutions

iii)                What are the key issues for sustainability of CLOs


Back to Belfast and being inspired

Around 20 of the research team met in Belfast in October 2023, travelling from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.  We had a fruitful discussion about creating and forming meaningful programme theories –, where there are many, possible theories relating to different aspects of a ‘large, complex, and messy’ programme and addressing research questions such as ours.  Some literature has reassured us we are not alone (ref Shearn et al 2017).  And being involved in another project also funded by NIHR, and co-led by Angela Bate Sonia Dalkin REEM project) has been important too. 


Special thanks go to our research partners at Colin Neighbourhood Partnership in Belfast, who made us very welcome, showed us around and talked us through the range of work they are involved in from Men’s Sheds, to working with young people with autism and ADHD, from community safety to Halloween parties.  We are acutely aware of the funding challenges in the sector at the moment and I left feeling inspired to, and hugely responsible for, producing the very best, most impactful work  possible, given the investment by NIHR and the time given by our partners and participants.  


Rachel Baker

Project lead


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