Meet our Evidence Champions. Read this page to find out why they’re passionate about championing the smarter use of evidence in social policy and practice in their places of work. You can find out more about this project here. If you’d like to become an Evidence Champion, and get support to help you increase evidence use in your organisation, please contact us at: Alliance.4UsefulEvidence@nesta.org.uk
Jamila Boughelaf, Head of Programmes, Mentor UK
Passionate about lowering social inequalities and improving young people’s life chances, I’m a strong believer in evidence-informed practice. Evidence tells us what works and, most importantly, what doesn’t work. For this reason, evidence is a crucial element in policy development and programmes in the prevention, health and education fields.
In current times, with budget cuts and increasing public health priorities, it’s important that we invest in activities that have an impact on society. Unfortunately, we know that ineffective interventions are still being funded (possibly with all good intentions); it’s therefore vital that we increasingly engage with funders, commissioners and policymakers and encourage them to use evidence-informed decision-making.
Throughout my work at Mentor UK, I have learned to use evidence to inform both internal and external decisions, such as the implementation and trial of programmes like the Good Behaviour Game, the improvement of practitioners’ service delivery through the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service (ADEPIS), or advising Government decisions through policy and advocacy work. These choices have contributed to building the evidence in the field of prevention, and the evidence for prevention itself; this was reflected in the increased relevance given to evidence-based prevention in the Cross-Governmental Drug Strategy (2017). I am very positive, because increasingly more stakeholders are understanding the importance of evidence – what we collectively need to do now is to make sure it is invested in.
Bex Pritchard, Director of Operations, Crisis
We know more than ever about the causes of homelessness and what it will take to end it. At Crisis, our direct services are funded through voluntary income rather than being commissioned. We use a range of evidence, including that produced by our clients, to guide innovation and ensure value for money in these services.
Evidence is at the heart of everything we do, including shaping and strengthening our external campaigns. In 2014, we conducted mystery shopping of local authority housing options services across England, involving people with lived experience of homelessness. Their experiences formed the basis of our No One Turned Away campaign; the impact of which was new, evidence-based legislation that will be enacted in England in 2018, the new Homelessness Reduction Act, and likely to benefit tens of thousands of single homeless people each year.
In 2015, we introduced a new impact focused Performance Management Framework. This provided the basis for our external evaluators and in-house analysts to identify significant correlations between types of interventions and engagement patterns, and the positive outcomes achieved by our clients. As a result of this evidence, we have invested in additional coaching posts, improving our ability to help people secure stable housing and incomes, improve their wellbeing and build social capital to leave homelessness for good.
Alison Turner, Head of Evidence Analytics, The Strategy Unit
Research evidence has a huge role to play in how we design and deliver public services, but there are significant barriers to using evidence effectively in decision-making. I’m passionate about using evidence synthesis and knowledge mobilisation skills to translate evidence into actionable insights to help decision-makers invest finite resources wisely.
In my day job, I lead an evidence analysis service to support transformation and strategic commissioning in healthcare – recently, I’ve been involved in synthesising evidence on new models of integrated care, extracting the “active ingredients” for success at a local level. I’m involved in various initiatives to help decision makers make sense of the latest evidence and knowledge – as a member of the NIHR Dissemination Centre Advisory Group and the organising team for the 2018 UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum. I’ve contributed regularly to the National Elf Service on evidence relating to commissioning.
I’m particularly interested in developing new, more dynamic ways to help people learn from research and practice, translate and contextualise important findings, and apply evidence to the complex problems facing public services.
David Wales, Customer Experience Manager, Kent Fire & Rescue Service
Evidence, in various forms, has been an important part of my work for over 17 years. Prior to my current role of Customer Experience Manager, I managed our Fire Investigation and Research Team. Whether presenting findings to a court, undertaking fire-related research or understanding what our customers need and value, evidence is at the heart of it.
Over this time, I have been increasingly interested in the evidence process and in particular its presentation and application. I have seen its ability to make a difference, most notably through a piece of research I instigated over six years ago to look at human behaviour in dwelling fires (www.myfireexperience.com).
This directly led to the creation of my present job, is influencing Fire and Rescue Service thinking and practice in the UK and abroad, and informs our engagement with partner agencies and the public.
Francis Simpson, Chief Executive, Support In Mind Scotland
Our organisation is a membership organisation and we have made a clear commitment to ensuring that everything we say or do is based on the experience of the people we support.
We have developed several new projects over the past 5 years and user-informed evidence has driven all of those developments. These include a national project supporting carers of people being held in secure care that started with a major research report we commissioned; and a pilot initiative with the Government supporting people in distress that began as a qualitative study of people’s experiences.
Recently we ran the first major survey of the experiences of living in rural Scotland with mental health problems. As a direct result of the findings of this study we have designed a new development called Well Connected Communities
Our issue is how to measure outcomes from activity that is based so heavily on individual testimony and this is what I hope to learn more about from being part of this network.
Helen Green, Programme Manager at the NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights
I believe that being informed by the best available evidence to make decisions is especially important in the current climate of stretched resources. By using research evidence in particular, we can better understand issues in order to develop potential policy solutions and interventions, as well as understanding what doesn’t work and learning from our mistakes. The Centre for Equality and Human Rights is a small team and we rely on partnership working in order to access the most relevant information on issues such as access to health services and employment opportunities so that we can support change for the better.
Research shows that collaborations between researchers and evidence users are the best way to ensure research uptake. Conversely, people don’t tend to use research that they can’t readily accessed. By working together, we can challenge these barriers, for example by promoting open access publishing. For us in Wales, the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015means that public bodies need to change their ways of working and evidence-based decision making is key to that.
In my previous role, I worked in knowledge exchange, connecting academia with public health policy makers and practitioners. There’s certainly an appetite for using evidence more routinely but it requires skill on both sides- academic research needs support to reach out to people and users of research can benefit from taking time to build up relationships. Collaborations can have a big influence on what research is ‘in the pipeline’, ensuring that it meets users’ needs.
Sohila Sawhney, Evidence and Information Manager, Barnardo’s
In charities and public sector organisations, I have applied social research to determine how limited funds are spent on tackling really important societal problems: to inform decisions about priorities that make the most efficient and effective use of what we have. Research can also tell us how to do this. For example, I have used evidence to shape public awareness campaigns for responsible drinking, develop a toolkit for employers to help prevent suicide in the workplace, and informed strategic plans to help transform the lives of children leaving care.
Evidence, gained from a variety of sources, can be used to determine what organisations do and for whom, and evaluation research can generate evidence of what has happened as a result; what worked, what didn’t, and why. My ambition is to promote the generation and use of the best available evidence.
Jon Brown, Head of Development and Impact, NSPCC
In my role as Head of Development and Impact at the NSPCC the generation of evidence and using it to improve outcomes for children and young people is core; it is also a key feature of our organisational strategy. I am responsible for leading on the identification of important outstanding questions in child safeguarding and then identifying how they can best be answered through the development of services which are piloted, tested, evaluated and then taken to scale in collaboration with other organisations in order that the learning we have generated and its impact can be amplified across the UK.
One example of this is a therapeutic intervention for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse called Letting the Future In. After developing and testing the service using a randomised control trial, the first of its kind worldwide, and responding to learning from the evaluation, we are now working with other organisations to adopt the intervention, which has now been recommended in the NICE guideline on abuse and neglect and will be a core service in the UK’s first Child House in London.
Lindsey Poole, Director, Advice Services Alliance
Call me a natural born sceptic, but I can’t remember when I didn’t think ‘but how do you know?’ to opinions offered freely. From the latest treatment for cancer to ways of stopping young people offending, I want to know ‘where’s the evidence’. I have worked as a social researcher and seen how decisions are improved with a little well produced evidence. So I was somewhat shocked to find the sector I work in now has very little evidence on giving social welfare legal advice: we know what problems people have, we know what law can address these, but we don’t know the most effective means to help nor the best way to get help to those most in need. How do we then make decisions about funding cuts? Is that triage system efficient use of resources or a waste of clients time? Do we lose vulnerable clients by referring them elsewhere? The sector has its well versed theories and a fierce desire for social justice, but very little has been subjected to rigorous testing, leaving us exposed to funding cuts.
I want this to change: I want practitioners to campaign for more research, I want us to use the evidence we have more effectively, I want funders to pay for more quality research – and I want the Advice Services Alliance to be central to this movement. These are my hopes as an ‘Evidence Champion’.
Jamie Hobday, Partnership Team Manager, West Midlands Police
During my career in the police I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in a variety of roles, in many different departments. This has exposed me to a variety of challenges, practices and different ways of doing the business of policing. Evidence (in the prosecution, justice sense) is a theme that runs through all of our work, but until recently was a term that was used solely in that sense. It is only more recently that we have, as a service, come to think of the strength of evidence for the strategies, tactics and decisions we make outside of the prosecution process.
My own wake up call came when I took on a role that was developing policy and strategy around justice and prosecution, and went looking for information on the effectiveness of various policies on offending behaviour. I was surprised how little current policy at the time appears to be based on measures of effectiveness, and even more so on how little the issue was even discussed or accepted. After doing some rudimentary internet searches of my own I found this approach called ‘restorative justice’, which did seem to have both information about its effectiveness and this information suggested it was effective. I was able to use this evidence to persuade senior mangers that adopting such practices would be good for policing, the public and reduce re-offending.
Soon after this I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when Cambridge University approached my force seeking to run a randomised control trial in a similar arena – reducing offending. Seeing the potential for both improvement in service and also personal learning and growth I jumped at the chance, and from this the ‘Turning-Point’ experiment was born. This contact with higher education led to a Masters degree in ‘Evidence-Based Policing’ (yes, there is such a thing, even a Society for it and a Journal). Since then I have been active in encouraging colleagues along a more evidence-based approach to decision-making in policing. The police service of the UK is getting behind this movement as part of its ‘professionalisation’ of policing and I am now part of a small but growing band of like-minded officers. We work closely with partners, both in academia and in other professions, and grow day by day.