In today’s tough climate of cuts and austerity, and with the rise of payment by results and outcomes-based commissioning, it is more important that ever before that charities measure their results. Yet many charities face serious challenges in demonstrating their impact, and these challenges vary between sectors.

NPC believes that the best way to address these gaps is through a coordinated programme of research and action around sector measurement, examining how charities measure and should measure outcomes in specific fields.

Such an approach will encourage cooperation between charities working in the same field, and avoid charities working in isolation to develop their own frameworks. It is essential to identify the most effective ways for charities to measure results.

NPC’s new report, Impact measurement in the youth justice sector,  published today, is the first in a series of reports exploring impact measurement at the sector level.

The challenges for measurement in youth justice

Unlike in some sectors, the primary outcome to be measured—re-offending—is well-defined, although there is some debate around the role of interim outcomes such as improved relationships and qualifications. Re-offending is also relatively easy to value as it has high criminal justice costs associated with it (although the final figures contested).

The major problem facing youth justice charities is how to gather information on reoffending and attribute that to their services. Data on re-offending is held by statutory bodies such as the police or Youth Offending Teams, yet is notoriously hard to access, and many charities do not have the systems in place to track young people themselves. Young offenders often receive several services on their journey through the criminal justice system which makes it hard to ascertain how much each contributes to change.

Recommendations

Charities, funders and government all have a role to play in addressing these challenges and improving impact measurement in the youth justice sector.

  • Charities should start to collect data from the young people they work with and analyse what they find, work closely with other charities to coordinate measurement efforts, and work with statutory agencies to maximise their chances of accessing the best data.
  • Funders should invest in charities that measure their results, pay for evaluation, and fund projects that are designed to improve measurement, both for individual charities and for the sector as a whole.
  • Government should make it easier for charities to access re-offending data, publish performance data on individual prisons, and publish quality data on the costs of different youth justice services.

By working together to improve measurement, with the support of funders and government agencies, charities have the potential to understand their impact, improve their work and transform the lives of more young people in trouble with the law.

We have also blogged about this on the guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network blog – click here to read it.

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