Jonathan Breckon provides a guide to the Results First Clearinghouse Database, which brings together the evidence base for over 2,500 US programmes. Could it provide a model for something similar in the UK?
Earlier this summer, the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released an enhanced version of their Results First Clearinghouse Database. This database is a free, online resource that brings together information on the effectiveness of programmes from nine American clearinghouses, such as the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, and the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare.
The clearinghouses serve a similar purpose as the UK’s What Works Centres – they review and summarise rigorous evaluations of programmes in a variety of social policy areas, such as child welfare, criminal justice, mental health, and public health. They then rate the programmes based on this information. In general, the ratings reflect the programme’s level of effectiveness, as well as the quality and quantity of the evidence.
While they all use this same overall approach, each uses slightly different procedures, criteria, and most notably, terminology. To address this, the Clearinghouse Database applies color-coding to the clearinghouses’ distinct rating systems, creating a common language that enables users to quickly see where each programme falls on a spectrum from negative impact to positive impact. This coding consists of five rating colors that correspond to different levels of impact as shown below.
In addition, the database contains an “insufficient evidence” classification, which indicates that a programme’s current research base does not have adequate methodological rigour to determine impact.
Using the database is very easy: simply type a key word into the search bar. A dropdown will appear with up to 10 suggested programmes that have the key word in their title. Alternatively, users can hit search to see results where the key word was found in any of the programme’s information.
Each result displays key information for a single programme, including the US clearinghouse that reviewed it and the clearinghouse’s rating, description, outcomes, setting, and target population (where available). It also contains a link back to the clearinghouse’s page for the programme where users can obtain much more information (eg studies reviewed, implementation resources, etc). Last, it shows the Results First rating color and category.
When more than one clearinghouse has rated the same programme, all the reviews are grouped together in one result. However, users can easily access each clearinghouses’ distinct information on the programme by clicking on the rating color circles beneath the programme title.
In addition, if users wish to access the database offline, they can download it using the link on the “Overview” tab.
This enhanced database can help everyone from policymakers and their staff, to nongovernmental organisations, charities and researchers to easily access and understand the evidence base for over 2,500 social policy programmes. A similar initiative is needed in other countries where there are a number of overlapping evidence institutions, as we recommended in our mapping of the UK’s standards of evidence. While the language and programmes of these resources are US-focused, they are a useful resource for anybody from any country seeking evidence they can trust.
Jonathan Breckon is the Director of the Alliance for Useful Evidence.