I’ve always been convinced of the power of cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral learning to address social problems, even when inter-disciplinary collaboration was less favoured than it is today. I have worked across many different types of organisations over the course of my career, with spells in academia and in the private sector, as well as a long career in the non-profit sector. From fairly early on I held positions of leadership and responsibility, managing large staff teams and large budgets, and with sole accountability for whole organisations. I combined these roles with continuing work in active, sometimes ground-breaking research and writing and producing a wide range of publications for both academic and professional readerships. During the course of my career I’ve had to be a fund-raiser, a manager, a trouble-shooter, an evaluator, a critical friend speaking truth to power, and a chief Cook and Bottle Washer.
I’ve always been convinced of the power of cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral learning to address social problems
My background is in science, but always in the service of practice. I studied human and then social sciences at Wadham and Nuffield colleges in Oxford. After finishing my D.Phil. research on violence against children I trained as a survey researcher at what is now the National Centre for Social Research.
In the 1990s I set up an independent specialist social policy research centre in London together with my colleague Ann Hagell, bringing together what was then an emerging area of policy research on parenting, family support and child and adolescent behaviour. Eventually employing a substantial staff, the Policy Research Bureau came to be an important provider of independent research to all the major departments of government, large foundations and charities, with a long list of influential publications and conferences.
In 2008, following the continuing direction of in my interests away from academic research and towards the more practical application of scientific knowledge, I went to Ireland to set up and direct a new organisation, the Centre for Effective Services, funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and by the Irish government Communities and Children’s ministries. As the first specialist implementation support centre of its kind in Europe, with strong international links and collaborations, CES supported a large programme of investment in evidence-based child and family services in both Ireland and Northern Ireland through scientific and implementation technical assistance and advice, including hands-on support and consultancy to services. Here my role was to create a sustainable infrastructure to realise the aspirations of the funders, and to act as adviser and liaison between the philanthropy and government policy makers and the service organisations they funded or were thinking of funding.
From 2011 I have been directing the independent non-profit Colebrooke Centre for Evidence and Implementation, as well as chairing the UK Implementation Society. Colebrooke Social Consulting, a related workstream, allows me to do what I now like doing most – blending a rigorous focus on knowledge about outcomes with a pragmatic understanding of what makes things ‘work’ in the real world, working closely alongside those who are making decisions and taking action that has real impact on the wellbeing of families and children.