About evaluation

The availability of strong evidence is key to the spread and take-up of initiatives. The lack of evidence on what works in the delivery of children’s social care has been one of the barriers to the take up and spread of innovations and best practice that can radically transform the lives of children and their families. For too long, some local authorities and other organisations have been working in isolation, whilst others are effective at sharing good practice not enough has been done to provide robust evidence to explain how best practice is achieved.  We often find ourselves reinventing the wheel in the provision of children’s social care services, wasting resources and creating frustration amongst practitioners, children and families.

The Innovation Programme will be investing over £100m and supporting around 60 different programmes. It provides a unique opportunity to correct this problem by putting the emphasis on the need for a strong national evaluation and the development of an infrastructure to facilitate joint work and enable those providing services to learn from the experience of others.

The Innovation Programme appointed the Rees Centre as the programme’s evaluation coordinator to provide the consistency of approach and focus on common outcomes to the different programmes that will benefit from funding. The Rees Centre will:

  • develop and agree an evaluation framework for assessing the outcomes and process for the two areas of focus: rethinking children’s social work and rethinking support for adolescents in or on the edge of care. These frameworks will be developed jointly with the leading researchers in the two focus areas;
  • test the frameworks with the different evaluation teams and get their buy-in and ensure their evaluation design fully embeds the agreed frameworks;
  • ahead of the Investment Board, work with individual projects to help them understand their individual evaluation needs as well as the need to contribute to the national evaluation, including providing recommendations on the most appropriate evaluators for the project;
  • quality assure the evaluation plans that the different evaluators will develop with the individual projects to ensure that they not only serve the specific needs of the projects but also contribute to our goal of a national evaluation; and
  • create links and networks to support evaluators and projects covering similar themes and approaches.

The DfE has selected 25 organisations to be part of our evaluation framework and support the individual projects with their evaluations. The project evaluators will:

  • work with the individual projects to develop strong evaluation plans that meet local needs and, critically, contribute to the national programme evaluation;
  • deliver the resulting high quality studies over the life of the projects, drawing out key messages and learning for projects around impact and implementation;
  • contribute to the development of the common outcomes framework and methodology;
  • ensure that common evaluation approaches and harmonised measures are used to allow different projects to be compared on a consistent basis;
  • actively participate in the learning networks and link to the evaluator coordinator; and
  • work with clusters of similar projects to draw out cross project learning to inform and influence the sector as a whole.

The DfE will oversee this process through its Evaluation Steering Group. Members of the evaluation steering group include Donna Ward, DfE’s Chief Analyst, Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker, and key senior officials. The Investment Board will also play a role through the on-going monitoring of projects.

The output for the evaluation findings of the Innovation Programme will be a number of thematic reports, published in September 2016, identifying which models of practices indicate improved outcomes for children and young people. This evidence will give us a strong basis on which to fund further evaluation of practice to build on findings and contribute to future reform in children’s social care.

The Innovation Programme is running a learning programme that brings together participants to encourage learning from running and innovation project. Building the capacity of participants to use and understand data produced by their project will be part of that learning programme. For more information please check here.

As a participant preparing for the Investment Board you should expect to:

  • start thinking in your project team about evaluation: how you are going to demonstrate whether or not your project works, what outcomes you expect to achieve and in what ways;
  • set up an initial discussion with your Coach and the Rees Centre to outline early thoughts on evaluation and an indicative budget for evaluation;
  • include a section on evaluation in your bid and be ready to discuss this at the Board.

Following approval you will be expected to:

  • consider the teams recommended to you to undertake the evaluation by the Rees Centre; this will reflect their views of the knowledge and skills required to do your evaluation properly;
  • approach any or all of the teams (or someone else from the framework if more appropriate) and decide who you want to work with on evaluation;
  • agree an evaluation plan and get it quality assured by the Rees Centre;
  • have your final evaluation budget agreed by the DfE
  • work effectively with your evaluation partner to maximise the learning to you and the programme as a whole from the evaluation;
  • accept the data publishing protocols of the programme, that data from your project will be used and published in a number of formats by the DfE and its evaluation partners; and so
  • contribute to the biggest ever investment in social work research and learning in the UK, by far.

If you have any questions or concerns about the evaluation process, or if you want to provide any feedback regarding evaluation please contact Lisa Thom (Lisa.THOM@education.gov.uk)

Teams evaluating Innovations Programme Projects

University of East Anglia, Centre for Research on Children and Families
Dartington Social Research Unit
University of Sussex, Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research and Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth
ICF International with University of Nottingham Children and Childhood Network and the RTK
Behavioural Insights
York Consulting
Cooper Gibson
Cordis Bright
Frontier economics
Kings College London
Loughborough University
National Children’s Bureau
Opcit Research with UCLAN
Oxford Brookes University
Research in Practice
Thomas Coram Research Unit
University of Bedfordshire
University of York