• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 08th October, 2013
Intervention SpecificityStandards of Evidence

Why innovation and evidence-based programmes are perfect bedfellows

One of the strongest pushbacks against evidence-based programmes like those listed on Investing in Children comes from people who are concerned that a focus on proven interventions will suck up all the oxygen and suffocate innovations.

Large international franchises like Incredible Years, Triple P and PATHS will dominate the field and exciting, small-scale, local innovations developed in real-world settings will be snuffed out, or never even take their first breath - so the argument goes. This is expressed particularly strongly within the voluntary and community sector.

Leaving aside for now that the infrastructure supporting most evidence-based programmes is more akin to a cottage industry than a multinational conglomerate, at the Social Research Unit we are sympathetic to the desire to see innovation in our field flourish. It is certainly needed!

For example, there are some outcome areas where few proven programmes exist - obesity prevention, for example - and some age groups that are poorly served too - very young children (surprisingly) and young people pushing early adulthood. Moreover, getting the right children and families to interventions is a perennial struggle. These areas and others are ripe for innovation.

So, we support the greater use of evidence-based programmes but we want to see more innovation. Indeed, to say anything else would be somewhat bizarre - like being for frogs but against tadpoles, or vice versa.

Take a relatively recent innovation: the smartphone. It didn't arrive overnight. It started life several years ago as some sketches and evolved over time through a process of rigorous design and testing. It wouldn't have made much sense to mass market the prototypes - the product simply wouldn't have been ready.

What about our field? All evidence-based programmes start as a gleam in someone's eye, before growing into fledgling interventions and then eventually, after substantial refinement and evaluation, fully mature interventions that are proven to work and ready for implementation in regular service systems - health, education, social care, youth justice.

This is why we recently published Design & Refine: Developing Effective Interventions in Children's Services. We wrote it to help people working in children's services to design an intervention and plan for its implementation.

Critically, the guide is based on our 'what works' standards of evidence. These standards are intended to help with identifying the best interventions today and developing the best interventions of tomorrow. The guide describes the standards and then sets out some practical steps for improving interventions against the standards.

In terms of design this covers areas such as specifying outcomes, target group, intervention components and logic model (or theory of change). On readiness for implementation it covers manual development, training, technical assistance, staffing and processes for monitoring how well the intervention is implemented.

'Design & Refine' has been produced as part of Realising Ambition, a £25m Big Lottery Fund programme intended to take a preventative approach to youth offending by improving outcomes for children and young people aged 8-14.

A lot of the content has been used already with the 25 Realising Ambition projects. It seems to be helpful. If the guidance is followed, we believe it will help these projects and other organisations to move their interventions further along the innovation to proven impact pipeline. More innovations turning into evidence-based programmes like those badged as 'Blueprints approved' on Investing in Children.

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