Opinions

ALISS – Engaging Communities

Written by: Cameron MacFarlane, ALISS Community Engagement Manager, the ALLIANCE

Published: 07/09/2017

Cameron outlines what the ALLIANCE's ALISS programme is up to in the community.

ALISS has succeeded because it has been jointly created with the people it supports, grounded in a co-production’ approach, continuously improving and being informed by the voice of lived experience. This is its vibrancy and beating heart.” – Catherine Calderwood (Chief Medical Officer) quoted in ALISS Report 2, 2016, p3.

ALISS was originally developed as a tool, or more accurately, as an infrastructure to support self management by helping people to connect with the variety of services and community assets that exist within local communities and which can help people to live well. As the above quote from Catherine Calderwood encapsulates, ALISS has always operated on the basis of continual development and improvement and it is therefore no surprise that there have been a number of changes over the last eight years since the project was set up in 2009.

These changes have included a variety of developments to the system as well as the structure, governance and activities of the programme. For example, ALISS was originally an acronym for ‘Access to Local Information to Support Self Management’ which reflected the context within which it was developed, however, following an initial period of learning and development, and in recognition that ALISS offered the potential to support the health and wellbeing of communities throughout Scotland more broadly, it was later renamed as ‘A Local Information System for Scotland’.

In order to support this wider objective and the scaling up of ALISS as a programme, a variety of technical developments were then implemented between 2013 and 2014, maybe most visible of these being the redesigned ALISS website. In addition to these technical developments, ALISS has changed over time in terms of team personnel, roles and structures such as for instance, the creation of new partnership, development, and engagement roles in 2014/15 which were required to build and manage relationships with other organisations interested in using ALISS to display or share information.

A more detailed history of these and other developments can be found in Report 1 (this link will take you away from our website) and Report 2 (this link will take you away from our website) which document the evolution of ALISS between 2009 – 2013 and 2013 – 2016 respectively.

At present, the ALISS Programme is within a further period of growth that is once again based on learning from our conversations with people who are either already using ALISS or who are interested in doing so. As ever, our aim is to make sure that the product and the support that we offer, best meets the needs of the range of different partners and stakeholders who wish to use the system and/or the data, with the ultimate goal that people and communities are able to find the resources that can help them to live well.

This learning has necessitated further technical development to the ALISS system and data structure in order to improve things like the data quality of listed resources and the relevance of search results, but also to enable people to participate in managing information more easily. My colleague, Douglas Maxwell has written a series of blog posts around the technical development (this link will take you away from our website) of our new beta site which will eventually replace the current aliss.org (this link will take you away from our website) website. These blogs illustrate some of the new features and functionality in more detail and also explain some of the reasons and decisions behind the changes (this link will take you away from our website) more generally.

However, whilst ALISS continues to develop and adapt to the evolving environment and context in which we operate, there are some things which have always remained constant. ALISS has for instance, always been based on principles of co-production and co-design and these continue to be fundamental to the operation of the programme and the system. Another of my colleagues, Stephen Plunkett, has recently highlighted the way in which co-production remains central to ALISS in his blog post titled ‘ALISS – It’s all about Co-production’ (this link will take you away from our website) so I won’t go into this in any more depth here myself, other than to say, we continue to recognise the importance of citizens and communities playing an active and ongoing role in the gathering, maintenance and sharing of information.

Another thing which remains unchanged is our belief that, in addition to the range of essential health and social care services that support people’s health and wellbeing, communities themselves contain a range of assets that are equally important in enabling people to live well. We know these assets include a wide variety of groups, associations, activities, facilities and spaces whether it’s a community choir or book group that provides opportunities for people to come together and connect through participation in an enjoyable and meaningful activity or a community garden or local park where people can get outdoors for some fresh air and exercise within a pleasant environment.

The ALISS Programme therefore remains equally as committed to supporting citizens and communities to gather and share information about these types of community assets as we are to supporting organisations and professionals to share information about the services and programmes that they deliver. Although this aim and commitment isn’t a change in terms of the overall goals of the ALISS Programme, we have made some recent and related changes to the structure and roles within the team in order to better define particular areas of focus and responsibility. Among other things this is intended to ensure that we are able to devote the necessary attention and capacity to this community engagement aspect of the programme.

Going forward, my own role within the team will now shift from engagement and development activities which have tended to focus mainly around working with partner organisations and professionals, towards a specific emphasis on engaging with and working within communities around their use of ALISS. In line with a place based approach, this will involve a particular focus on geographical communities and will include working with citizens, community groups and organisations or practitioners who are based within local neighbourhoods and who are working at community level.

This will include asset mapping activities aimed at supporting communities to recognise and identify the resources within their area that can support health and wellbeing, and then to use ALISS to share this information with others as well as considering other ways in which they themselves might be able to use the information they have gathered. This sort of community asset mapping activity has always been an important element of the ALISS approach and it was carried out more frequently during earlier years of the programme either directly by the ALISS team or in collaboration with colleagues in the ALLIANCE’s People Powered Health & Wellbeing (PPHW) programme, however, for various reasons we have been less directly active in this respect more recently. Rather than changing anything, returning to this sort of activity with a renewed emphasis is actually therefore, more about reconnecting the different strands of ALISS in terms of supporting the gathering and adding of information which is an essential precursor for individuals who are using ALISS to search for and find support, or for partners to surface this information through their own systems.

At present, however, the main focus for the programme is on delivering the best possible system that most effectively enables people to make use of the information gathered and ultimately ensures that people searching for support are best able to find relevant resources that can support their health and wellbeing. In order to do this, we are currently talking to people within communities about their experiences of finding and sharing information.

We are therefore keen to hear from people who are living and working in local communities about the sort of resources they most often look for or that are most important to them in terms of being able to live well. We want to know how people find these resources currently, including any methods that people find particularly useful as well as any barriers or challenges around this. We also want to find out how people most commonly share information about the resources they provide, use or know about at the moment, whether they feel they have the necessary time, skills and capacity to add, maintain and share this information using ALISS and what sort of support they might require to do so.

So, if you are an individual citizen, a community group, or a practitioner working directly with people at community level and would like to get involved in these conversations, we would love to hear from you and you can get in touch by emailing me at cameron.macfarlane@alliance-scotland.org.uk (this link will take you away from our website).

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