December 2012 saw the ‘popping of metaphorical champagne corks’ at NPC’s offices: our call for access to government datasets on reoffending was coming to life.

Over a year since the launch of the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Data Lab, now feels like a good time to reflect.

A recap of how it works: organisations send details of the offenders they have worked with and information about the specific intervention they have delivered. The Justice Data Lab team then matches these offenders to MoJ’s central datasets and returns the reoffending rate of this particular cohort, alongside that of a control group of offenders with very similar characteristics.

The MoJ has published summaries of the requests so far, which explain a range of interventions—from mentoring and relationship building to employment services—and their effect. Of 61 interventions, 19 have proven a statistically significant reduction in re-offending, whilst three have had the opposite effect (although clear methodological reasons may explain this).

Adam Moll of Safe Ground has been a leading advocate, explaining how it has provided the opportunity to assess the impact of their work in an easy and robust way. Anecdotally, we’ve heard from organisations who say they now have a better understanding of how re-offending statistics are calculated, and from others who would like advice on collecting data so they can use the Lab in future. And though it’s too early to generalise which interventions are the most effective, we’re hoping to build up a library of evidence over time that will benefit the sector as a whole.

We at NPC are very proud of our involvement in the project. By providing a mechanism that enables better impact measurement, it furthers our aim to encourage charities to test whether their service is working as planned so they can direct improvements. It responds to a demand for easier access to government datasets, and to signals from funders who increasingly want to know how and to what extent their money makes a difference. We think the model has huge potential and are currently working hard to produce similar Data Labs in the areas of employment, substance misuse, health and education, with continued funding from the Oak Foundation.

We must give due credit the Ministry of Justice and the Justice Data Lab team who have been exceptional in their aptitude for listening to the sector, and have themselves reflected on the project, publishing the Justice Data Lab-The Pilot Year in March.

We want to represent the needs of the voluntary sector throughout this programme of work and so please join us at our free event on 12 June, ‘Justice Data Lab: One Year on’. Organised in partnership with Clinks, our fantastic expert speakers from the Ministry of Justice, Safe Ground, academia and NPC will provide a platform for discussion, but really it’s a chance for you to ask the questions and offer opinion on the Justice Data Lab, and for us to listen, respond and mostly learn about what our priorities should be. Add your name to the list here.

If you are unable to attend the event and would like to discuss the Justice Data Lab or our ongoing programme to create other data labs, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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