• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 22nd May, 2014
Cost Benefit

Disciplined innovation

Evidence-based programmes (EBPs) come in for a fair amount of criticism – some justified, some plain ill-informed. One of the more common criticisms is that greater investment in EBPs results in less interest in and opportunity for innovation. Unhelpfully, these two approaches are often presented as an either/or option: if you are for EBPs you must be against innovation, and vice versa.

Any portfolio of services should of course include a mix: some safe bets that we are confident will produce good outcomes, and some more risky or novel activities where we have a good hunch that it will be effective but little prior evidence of impact. There are many gaps in the EBP landscape, so there is no shortage of need for innovation.

The Investing in Children economic model has been designed with EBPs in mind, providing consistent and reliable information about the costs and economic benefits of competing options. But there is no reason why the model, with some adjustments, couldn't also aid our innovation efforts.

Good innovations are clear about the outcomes they seek to affect, for example, literacy, and the key components of the intervention, such as 10 weeks of intensive daily tutoring by a volunteer following a specified curriculum. Assuming the intervention has been fully planned, it should also be possible to estimate a unit cost – how much it would cost to achieve the anticipated impact for each child.

Armed with these two bits of information – intervention focus and unit cost – we can use the model to tell us the size of impact that would be necessary for the intervention to be cost neutral (i.e. for cost and benefit to be the same) and also what would be required to generate a positive return.

It would be prudent then to look at the existing literature to see what size impact has been achieved by other similar approaches. By comparing this with what we know from the model, we can decide whether it is worth taking the innovation to the next stage. We might opt to trim the intervention to reduce the unit cost, or think again about what it would take to make the necessary impact, or simply accept that the innovation doesn’t have legs (the amount it will cost to achieve the desired impact is simply too great).

This type of discipline could enable us to improve the quality of our innovations and increase the chance that our good ideas really do translate into benefits for children and their families.

Louise Morpeth (Co-Director, Social Research Unit at Dartington)

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