Dr Ailsa Cook


Ailsa is a leader in the field of outcomes. Through her research and work with policy and practice, Ailsa has made a significant contribution to shifting the focus of public services in Scotland towards the outcomes that are important to citizens and communities. She has done this through:

  1. Research into the outcomes important to people who use services; the practice of outcome measurement and recording and the use of outcomes focused approaches across public services.
  2. Leading pioneering improvement programmes bringing organisations together to develop and improve practice in focusing on outcomes at programme, personal and population levels. Working with policy makers to ensure a focus on outcomes is supported by policy.
  3. Leading training and capacity building to understand and use evidence for outcomes.
  4. Evaluating innovative outcomes focused services and programmes using theory-based approaches to evaluation, particularly contribution analysis.

Ailsa is a co-originator of the Talking Points Personal Outcomes Approach, now used across thousands of organisations in Scotland and beyond.


Photo by Malin Widstrand Photography

Ailsa’s publications

Morton, S. & Cook, A. (2023) How Do You Know If You Are Making a Difference: A Practical Handbook for Public Service Organisations. Policy Press

With case studies from health, community, research, international development and social care, this book shows that with the right tools and techniques, public services can track their contribution to social change and become more efficient and effective.

Interrogating assumptions about the relationship between service providers and recipients: Learning from a new service for survivors of In Care Abuse (2023)

Ailsa Cook, Sarah Morton, Flora Henderson. Evaluation and Program Planning, Volume 97. Understanding the dynamic relationship between service providers and the people who use their services is key to effective evaluation. This paper presents a practical approach to embedded evaluation that can be used by services to interrogate assumptions about relationships. The approach includes a simple framework for developing theories of change that centres relational aspects of the change process. This framework is complemented by a structured approach to surfacing risks and assumptions. Using the example of the evaluation of Future Pathways, a new and ground breaking service provided to people who experienced abuse or neglect as children In Care in Scotland, the paper describes how this approach was used in practice.

Outcomes Based Approaches in Public Service Reform (2017)

A position paper written by Ailsa Cook for What Works Scotland. The paper draws together findings from formal research and the grey literature that has examined the use of outcomes based approaches in public service across the UK and internationally.

Focusing on Outcomes: Their Role in Partnership Policy and Practice (2005)

Alison Petch, Ailsa Cook and Emma Miller. Journal of Integrated Care, Vol. 13 Issue: 6, pp.3-12

Talking Points: Personal Outcomes Approach. Practical Guide (2012)

Ailsa Cook and Emma Miller. Joint Improvement Team Scotland.

Partnership working and outcomes: do health and social care partnerships deliver for people using services (2013)

Alison Petch, Ailsa Cook and Emma Miller. Health and Social Care in the Community. 21 (6): 623-633.

Partnership Working across UK Public Services (2015)

A review paper written by Ailsa Cook for What Works Scotland. The review brings together evidence from empirical research on UK public service partnerships reported in peer reviewed journals or the grey literature between January 2000 and July 2015

Can we mandate partnership working? Top down meets bottom up in structural reforms in Scotland and Norway (2018)

Guro Øyen Huby, Ailsa Cook and Ralf Kirchhoff, Journal of Integrated Care 26(2): 109-119.