What is happening on EIF’s assessment of early intervention programmes?

7 January 2016

An update from Leon Feinstein, Head of Evidence

The EIF was set up as an independent charity in 2013 with the purpose of assessing the evidence on early intervention and providing that information to local authorities, and others interested in commissioning early intervention programmes. We have other functions too but as head of evidence this has been my main priority in our first phase.

We identified over a thousand of programmes in wide use and found that commissioners tended to use a set of Clearinghouses (such as the Washington State institute of Public Policy, Investing in Children or Blueprints) as their main source of information on these programmes. These Clearinghouses use rigorous methods to assess the effectiveness of interventions against internationally recognised standards of evidence but we have found that this evidence often diverged and was presented using different frameworks.

What is the EIF Library of Programmes?

In 2014 to clarify and structure this evidence we created an online library of programmes that provides an accessible overview of the evidence on 50 programmes chosen from 15 authoritative Clearinghouses. We did not revalidate the ratings of these clearinghouses. We merely presented this evidence within a single framework of standards of evidence as a first step in our work as a What Works centre.

What is the EIF Guidebook?

This library of programmes is one tool amongst others in our online Guidebook, intended to help commissioners, policy-makers and others improve their use of the evidence and the impact of their investment in early intervention.

The Guidebook is intended to inform decision making not to replace it. We put these programmes on our website because they have make good progress in evaluation but we do not validate them in the sense of suggesting that they will inevitably work, because that would be an over statement of what the evidence can tell us. I hope all users of the library understand this but the evidence suggests otherwise and this is a big concern.

What do we mean by validate?

No programme is always effective and commissioners must think hard about local implementation and about how the international evidence or evidence from other localities should be interpreted in making local commissioning decisions. No clearinghouse rating means that a programme can be commissioned without very careful regard to implementation. As good commissioners and policy makers know, they cannot divest themselves from responsibility for the quality of commissioning by saying a programme is on a clearinghouse or in the EIF library. That by itself is neither a necessary nor sufficient basis for investment. The Guidebook also includes other information and tools to help commissioners make informed decisions.

What next?

Since the Guidebook was created we have reviewed the detailed evidence on hundreds of programmes ourselves. We will in due course publish our own assessments of this evidence in an upgrade to the library of programmes. We are assessing these programmes through the lens of rigorous and transparent standards based on a thorough process involving systematic review of the literature, surveys of providers and exhaustive moderation by independent experts. It has taken a while but the upgrade will be important in helping commissioners better understand the nature of the UK market for early intervention programmes.