I was thrilled to read a recent article by Adam Moll from Safe Ground, one of the first users of the Justice Data Lab, a pilot Ministry of Justice analytical service that enables services to measure their reoffending impact, which NPC advocated for.
Adam writes about the importance of demonstrating Safe Ground’s impact, especially in response to increasing demands from funders for greater and better evidence. As he explains, participating in the Justice Data Lab has helped Safe Ground to further validate their theory of change, which in essence sets out how a service’s activities will lead to the required impact.
Being the first organisation to try something new, especially when there is no requirement to do so in an increasingly competitive market, requires strong determination. I don’t mean to say that organisations who do not make a submission to the Lab care less about their service users, as there are important reasons why the Justice Data Lab is not yet suitable for all organisations (see NPC/Clinks frequently asked questions), only that organisations need to be brave to put the impact they make under the spotlight.
The Justice Data Lab provides a really important service in making access to reoffending data easy and free. But it can be pretty scary to go from just measuring the number of service users (your output), to receiving information on whether your service users have committed an offence (your outcome). This is then compared to a similar group of people who did not receive your service to show the difference it actually makes (your impact). And finally, all results will be made public. What happens if your service is shown to make no impact, or even worse, has a negative impact? It’s certainly safer never to find this out, particularly as it could affect your ability to attract funds.
But hold on a second, charities work for the benefit of the service user, not just for funders or for their continued employment . We are there because market forces/ governments are unable to provide a needed service. We should all be looking at ways to understand our impact, and potential negative results from one metric should not be used as an excuse to deny funding, but as a basis for further exploration. Some important questions to ask are: have we identified the right outcomes? What does/doesn’t work about this intervention? Of course, services should ideally be asking these questions already.
Safe Ground recognised the need to understand their impact and took that step forward into uncharted territory. I applaud their bravery, and hope that many more will follow after them.