Putting evidence into action: The challenge is clear

2 May 2017

By Donna Molloy, director of dissemination, EIF

I’m really looking forward to our annual national conference in a few weeks’ time. The issues on the agenda, for me, feel like many of the key questions of the day on early intervention. Our theme this year is ‘putting evidence into action’ – I think we now have a good understanding of what it takes to make this happen, as well the challenges involved.

We’ve just completed a major programme of dissemination work to encourage take-up and application of our evidence on interventions in the early years, which has reached decision-makers in around three-quarters of English local areas. We’ve also recently compared what is known from evidence on ‘what works’ in relation to vulnerable children, with what is being delivered in some local areas. At the conference, I’ll be discussing this and the question of whether early intervention can really make a difference to the most vulnerable children, alongside a stellar cast, in a session chaired by chief children’s social worker Isabelle Trowler.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in all our work is that the worlds of evidence and local delivery and innovation remain some distance apart. While our Guidebook provides rich data on the impact of programmes and interventions, there are questions being asked by those driving early intervention in local areas for which the evidence-base is much less developed. I’m continually struck, for example, by the extent to which similar questions are being asked across the system about how services can best collaborate to reduce budgets and demand pressures. Up and down the country, children’s services and partners are working to bring services together in new multi-disciplinary structures. Yet, as my colleague Ben Lewing will be discussing at conference, we know very little from evidence about which models of integration in early intervention are most effective. We urgently need to make progress on this whole area if we are to guide local activity.

I’m continually struck, for example, by the extent to which similar questions are being asked across the system about how services can best collaborate to reduce budgets and demand pressures.

Measuring the impact of activities such as practice and system change are, rightly, important issues for practitioners and local service leaders. Questions as to what methods can be used to address these areas feel pertinent right now, and are likely to come into increasing focus as plans to set up a new What Works centre on frontline practice in children’s social care evolve.

In the end, though, it wouldn’t be the EIF national conference if we didn’t have to deal with some last-minute agenda shenanigans caused by political developments! Some of you may remember the resignation of our keynote speaker Iain Duncan Smith just before last year’s event. True to form, purdah restrictions mean that Edward Timpson MP is no longer able to join us this year – but we are delighted to welcome the new president of the Association for Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alison Michalska, to deliver the keynote speech. This provides a fantastic opportunity to hear the perspective of the new ADCS president on early intervention early in the year (she provided a sneak peek in the MJ last month), and builds on EIF’s longstanding relationship with Nottingham. I hope you’ll book your seat and join us for a fascinating day’s sharing and debate.