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November 2017

“The participants have been a brilliant addition” – managers share their views on partnering with Think Ahead

At Think Ahead we are committed to evaluating our impact, to understand both how well we are doing and how we can be even better. We’ve commissioned an independent evaluation of our programme, and we’ve set up internal processes to regularly gather information and opinions from people involved with Think Ahead.

We can now share findings from our recent check-in with the managers of services across England where Think Ahead participants are training and working. This informal survey has given us feedback from service leaders, such as Heads of Social Care or Mental Health, in the NHS Trusts and Local Authorities who’ve been partnering with us since our first cohort began last year.

What’s going well?

We’re proud and excited that 100% of respondents would recommend partnering with Think Ahead to an organisation like theirs.

Digging a little deeper, we asked questions about how we’re doing against the three routes to impact outlined in our recent Impact Review: attracting talented people, giving them excellent training, and supporting mental health services to unlock the potential of social work. The responses gave us reason to believe we’re having strong impact through the first and second of these routes.

Asked about the talent of Think Ahead participants, 89% of respondents said that – compared to other trainees – they have much or somewhat higher potential to become effective social workers.

This was illustrated by some of the comments we received:

  • “The Think Ahead participants have been a brilliant addition to our integrated mental health teams. They are well-prepared and well-motivated. The training they receive has prepared them for mental health social work very effectively.”
  • “Excellent candidates supported by a robust academic programme and on the job reflective practice.”
  • “Very engaged and integrated within our teams.”
  • “The scheme has worked very well to produce effective mental health social workers.”

Our participants are now training and working in 52 services across England. If you’re interested in partnering with us in the future, you can read more about partnering with us, or get in touch on

Where can we improve?

Our third route to impact is focused on working with mental health services to help them unlock wider benefits, beyond the direct impact of our participants. We want the unique skills and perspectives of social workers to make the best possible contribution, and we’re trying out activities like sharing best practice (for example, through workshops bringing together all of our partner organisations), supporting our participants to carry out original research, and providing leadership training for our Consultant Social Workers and other senior staff that is tailored to the challenges of social work in multi-disciplinary environments.

Our partners told us that we’re making progress on this route to impact, but not as much as we’d like. Two thirds of respondents think that their organisation’s broader social work practice has been somewhat or significantly strengthened through partnering with Think Ahead. We were given some encouraging comments such as “It has helped people to think differently”, and: “Students generally are good for organisations. The Think Ahead participants especially. They challenge and they make us critically appraise our practice.”

That’s good news. But we want all of our partners to see big impacts across their whole service. We’re hopeful that there is more impact to come from our current activities – after all, we are only just over a year into the first cohort of the programme – but we’re also thinking about what more we could do to work alongside Trusts, Local Authorities, and other organisations to scale our collective impact. We’re looking at what’s working well for the partners that are seeing transformational impact, and how we can replicate it everywhere.

Get involved

We are always looking to increase our impact, and we welcome ideas from anyone with experience of mental health services – as a professional or a service user. You could join our Professionals Network or our Service User and Carer Reference Group, or just send us your ideas on

And if you are a service manager wondering if you’d like to partner with Think Ahead, you can find out more here or get in touch with us on