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.
Patrick Flack, Impact & Evaluation Officer, Greater Shankill Partnership
I work as the Impact & Evaluation Officer at the Greater Shankill Partnership (GSP), a community-led regeneration agency in the Greater Shankill area of Belfast. My role is to measure impact and to develop evidence-based strategy for programmes, initiatives and interventions.
Prior to working for GSP, I worked in research roles in the advertising industry. I used evidence to consider how target audiences could be influenced by communications, for example in road safety campaigns. I also worked in academia where I researched the ways in which illegal organisations justify their existence and how evidence could be used to demobilise these organisations.
In my current role, evidence is used to support service delivery and improve the life chances of children and young people in Greater Shankill. In areas of high deprivation, there is a great opportunity to improve lives by using relevant evidence in a practical way. Greater Shankill has seen some positive changes in recent years, such as improvements in the percentage of young people leaving school with qualifications, but the area still experiences considerable disadvantages. For services to have a significant effect, collaboration is required whereby evidence is made accessible and innovative solutions are applied (in relation to how evidence can be utilised). I hope my involvement with Alliance for Useful Evidence can help make this an easier task to achieve.
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 pote ntial 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.
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.
Dr Rachel Hughes, Head of Insight, Sport Wales
At the heart of my career is a strong commitment to social justice and making a positive difference to people’s lives. Using evidence is key in doing this. I have over 20 years of experience working as a social researcher in Wales in both academia and the public sector, fourteen of these in a leadership role. I co-founded the inaugural Wales Social Research Awards to recognise, celebrate and raise the profile of talented researchers undertaking innovative and timely research. I believe that undertaking and applying research and insight to a public policy environment and using critical analysis capabilities and leadership enables us to challenge organisations to think differently, to not do the same things better, but do better things.
The pace and scale of disruption we’re experiencing is happening within an increasingly complex world, where the societal challenges and opportunities that we face, are multiple and messy. We need to think carefully about the information we need to solve a problem and think more strategically about how to apply it to our decision-making and actions. This intentional thought helps convert data into knowledge and wisdom.
This has become very apparent for those of us working with the pioneering Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act. The Act seeks to improve the social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing of Wales, now and in the future. The Act is inherently aspirational and requires bold and visionary leadership, and importantly, critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking isn’t easy, but as with any skill, it requires practice. The more we do of it, the more likely it will become the norm. So, go forth, and practice, practice, practice!
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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, Research Lead, National Fire Chiefs Council
Evidence, in various forms, has been an important part of my work for over 17 years. Prior to my most recent role as Customer Experience Manager, Kent Fire Service, 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).
My current voluntary role involves influencing Fire and Rescue Service thinking and practice in the UK and abroad, and informs our engagement with partner agencies and the public.