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Partnership with Dartington Service Design Lab boosted by strategic collaboration with PenCHORD

Posted on October 18th 2017

The Dartington Service Design Lab is entering into a strategic collaboration with PenCHORD (the Peninsula Collaboration for Health Operational Research and Development) and the wider PenCLAHRC, building on their strong partnership over many years.

The Dartington Service Design Lab (the Lab) was formed in September 2017, before which it was known as the Dartington Social Research Unit (DSRU). Over the past five years, the Lab has collaborated with PenCLAHRC on a number of projects, including a number of randomised controlled trials of services for children and young people as part of the Realising Ambition and Birmingham Brighter Futures projects as well as a chapter in the
Handbook of Implementation Science for Psychology in Education on measuring the well-being of children in schools, co-written by Dr Tim Hobbs (Lab Director) and Professor Tamsin Ford.


Partnership with PenCLAHRC

The connection between PenCLAHRC and the Dartington Lab has developed over a number of years, with colleagues from Dartington taking up positions at PenCLAHRC. These include Dr Nick Axford who joined PenCLAHRC in April 2017 to work on a variety of projects with a focus on child health and implementation science, PenCLAHRC Senior Research Fellow Dr Vashti Berry and Dr Gretchen Bjornstad based in the Cerebra Research Unit for Childhood Disability Research (PenCRU).

PenCLAHRC statisticians Justin Matthews and Obi Ukoumunne have provided expertise and support to Dartington on research projects within their Realising Ambition programme. Realising Ambition is a UK-wide £25m Big Lottery programme replicating 25 services aimed at preventing children and young people from entering the criminal justice system. Two of the interventions are being evaluated in full randomised controlled trials – a mentoring programme for children with behavioural and emotional difficulties and a therapeutic parenting programme for parents of similar children. A trial for a third intervention, a school-based dating violence prevention programme, is currently in the piloting stage.


Collaboration between PenCHORD and the Lab

In recent months, the PenCHORD team has liaised extensively with the Lab, looking at modelling pathways for mental health services in the South West. This work has been in collaboration with the mental health commissioning services and the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) to support strategy and policy making. It has entailed using System Dynamics to map the multiple agencies involved in mental health care including any interfaces involved in the delivery of care to patients. It is envisaged that there will be further collaborative work between PenCHORD and the Lab to build on this work.


Aims of this collaboration

  • To develop strong multi-disciplinary links between healthcare research and research in the broader social sector (the latter is the focus of the Lab);
  • To reciprocally boost skills and capacity within the Lab and PenCHORD in relation to engagement and facilitation and technical aspects of system dynamic modelling;
  • Work together on the publication of scientific papers to disseminate the learning from our respective and collaborative work;
  • Proactively seek out opportunities to undertake high quality applied research that positively impacts the health and well-being of children, families and communities in the South West.


How the collaboration works in practice

There are regular exchanges across both teams in which they share updates, learning, tools and resources which are related to system modelling. They proactively seek opportunities to work together on local and national programmes of applied research aligned to each of their organisational missions. Finally, they collaborate together on a range of scientific papers to share their work with the wider scientific community, including co-presentation at major conferences.



Ed. Kelly B and Perkins D. Handbook of Implementation Science for Psychology in Education. Cambridge University Press. November 2012. Ch 25.