Third Sector Capacity and Capability for Improvement

Mechanisms of Improvement

Co-designing educational solutions to support the third sector’s improvement capacity and capability

What we know

Third sector organisations (TSOs) provide over a third of formal social care, employs around 138,000 staff in Scotland and includes around 45,000 voluntary organisations delivering social care with an annual turnover of around £4.9 billion. A central and consistent theme within our public service reform agenda is a greater role for the third sector, for communities and for people who use support and services.

The Healthcare Quality Strategy emphasises the need for ‘collaboration between clinicians, patients and others, ‘putting people at the heart of our NHS’ and driving improvement, informed by people’s experiences and focused on what matters to them. The Route Map to the 2020 Vision for Health and Social Care is even more explicit in talking about ‘shifting the balance of power’ to people and communities and supporting their role, skills and assets.

Despite this political willingness to increase the role of the third sector in public service provisions, there is little research to demonstrate evidence on the capacity and capability of TSOs to successfully adhere to evidence-based practice, to implement evidence-based interventions and finally to make change happen.  A recent systematic review found that TSOs faced considerable challenges in implementing evidence-based interventions, which were primarily a lack of support and expertise, and unclear/insufficient guidelines on how to adapt these interventions to their own unique contexts. This systematic review identified the importance of engaging with central stakeholders, such as funders, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, to discuss how these needs can be met.

Project aim

Through the development of shared academic, policymaker and practice-based programmes, we aim to enable the ALLIANCE & the University of the West of Scotland to develop improvement capacity and capability within the Third Sector workforce by engaging with staff and service users based on an agreed scope of practice, essential knowledge base, and improvement science competence.

What this research explores

This project will explore:

  • What experience is there in improvement science and its specific nature in the Third Sector?
  • What are the competency & capability requirements for improvement science in the Third Sector?
  • What is the existing relevant education/training provision across health and social care?

And conduct the following:

  • A literature review of the experience in improvement science and its specific nature in the Third Sector
  • Identification of the competency and capability requirements for the Third Sector workforce around Improvement Science
  • A review of available education and training across health and social care and a gap analysis.

What this study will add

This will inform the design and delivery of educational solutions to support the enhancement of improvement capacity and capability within the Third Sector.


The project was led by Dr Sam Quinn, supported by colleagues from the School of Health and Life Sciences at the University of West of Scotland and Mandy Andrew, Associate Director at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland.  Co-created with colleagues from across the public and third sector in Scotland.   

For more information please contact SISCC (


Alliance Scotland – Partnership towards Third Sector Improvement

A Route Map to the 2020 vision for Health & Social Care