Most people would agree that public services should be driven by evidence of what works. It’s a longstanding and laudable aim, but also a rather empty one unless there is serious effort to integrate evidence into decision-making, appropriate funding and a degree of common understanding about how to collect and interpret data.
Encouragingly, there’s growing momentum behind this: in the charity sector, discussions around impact evaluation are increasingly the norm, while the recently announced What Works Networks are the most substantial attempt yet to facilitate and promote the use of existing knowledge.
However, the challenge becomes greater when the direction of policy is towards diversity in providers and interventions. A case in point is reoffender rehabilitation which, following the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ announcement a fortnight ago, is now entering a phase of rapid and substantial reform. To summarise, from autumn 2014 all offenders released from shorter custodial sentences will receive 12 months of mandatory supervision aimed at preventing reoffending. This will be built around 21 local consortia of private, voluntary and community organisations (VCS) and mutualised Probation Trusts, who will deliver ‘packages of support tailored to the needs of the individual’ based on the ‘valuable evidence on reducing reoffending’.
Evidence-based services in this context will entail commissioners and providers being up-to-date with research, and networks of organisations that can demonstrate their quality and outcomes impartially and intelligibly.
To support this, MOJ’s Transforming Rehabilitation strategy includes a commitment to publish a summary of current research. They have also recently opened the ‘Justice data lab’ which, for the first time, will give organisations the opportunity to access reconviction data for the offenders they’ve worked with, alongside a counterfactual (and which we have written about before).
In addition, NPC and Clinks are beginning a year-long programme (funded by the National Offender Management Service) to stimulate the visibility, collection and use of evidence by VCS organisations working in criminal justice.
An important part of this project is to learn from the sector itself before deciding on the format and content of support to provide. Therefore, during June and July we will therefore be hosting four free conferences to give organisations an opportunity to share their experiences and ambition for evidence collection – particularly in light of the changing policy context. The conferences will feature input from NOMs and representatives of leading private, public and voluntary sector organisations—as well as opportunities to discuss the issues with colleagues in the sector.
Later in the year we will bring together resources to support the use of evidence, as well as find new ways to promote dialogue and good practice. We also want to help the sector overcome some of the barriers to using evidence, such as resource constraints and the sometimes bewildering array of different tools and techniques.
This probably all sounds very worthwhile but what makes it important?
In short, we want to equip the Sector to put its best case for involvement in Transforming Rehabilitation and believe that demonstrating a commitment to evidence will help. This means measuring outcomes for services, but it’s also about showing commissioners how evidence is instilled into service design and delivery (the maxim ‘prove and improve’). Our vision is for a greater common understanding about; what makes good evidence; the best and most efficient ways to collect it; and ultimately what works in offender rehabilitation.