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Let’s get this show on the road! Taking the lessons of EIF evidence reviews out to the people who can use them


4 Aug 2016

The work of promoting and supporting evidence-based early intervention cannot stop at publishing a pair of weighty reports. The real task now is to ensure that the important findings they contain are readily available to everyone who can use them to make decisions and improve services in their local areas.

This year EIF has published two significant reviews of what the evidence tells us about what is most effective in supporting the interparental relationship and early years development in order to improve outcomes for children. The timing feels right for these reports. There is strong central government interest in promoting ‘what works’, social justice and life chances. Equally, the need to understand which approaches can be shown to deliver real changes becomes ever more important as local authorities have less to spend.

The publication of these reviews was an important milestone for EIF, bringing together a huge body of scientific and systematic review evidence. But the question of ‘what next?’ has been preoccupying many of us at EIF for a while now. It is a common question across the What Works centres: we are all thinking about how to ensure our evidence has impact in the real world.

Indeed the whole question of how research interacts with policy and practice has become a field of academic enquiry in itself. There is now a body of evidence as to the effectiveness of different strategies in promoting evidence-informed decision-making which has been developed by the ESRC, Alliance for Useful Evidence and others.

There seems to be broad consensus that for evidence to lead to change on the ground requires a number of things.

  • Reviews and their outputs need to be relevant: they need to match up with the questions that people are grappling with right now (this sounds so obvious, yet it is something we don’t always get right).
  • Findings need to be accessible: they can’t be left buried deep in technical jargon or lost in endless caveats and provisos.
  • Messages need to be delivered in ways that engage and enable dialogue with the people we want to act on them.

This is not one-way traffic. The development of the evidence base on early intervention is as much about local commissioners and service managers feeling confident about applying evidence and generating their own evidence as it is about responding to the outputs from bodies such as EIF.

This means that disseminating our findings and supporting those who are interested in applying them is just as important as the process of developing them in the first place. Too much evidence never gets into the hands of those who need it. So, to start with, we will be running a programme of masterclasses starting in the autumn to give those who are interested the opportunity to hear more about these findings and to discuss with us and others (and each other) how they might be applied to their local decision-making.

Too much evidence never gets into the hands of those who need it.

We are also big believers in the power of peer networks in supporting the use of evidence and innovation, as in the example of our ‘future leaders’ work with police forces. We are interested in the potential to partner with a set of areas who we work with over time to apply this evidence, working with broad-based commissioning teams involving say, representatives from the local authority, clinical commissioning group, NHS, schools and police and crime commissioners, to support thinking about how this evidence could be applied in a comprehensive, place-based way. This also provides an important opportunity to enable local areas to bring together their thinking about supporting the interparental relationship and supporting parenting. These tightly interwoven aspects of family life are all too often thought about separately, by different services. This is an area ripe for early intervention innovation. We’ll be doing what we can to secure funding and testing of some of the most promising interventions and programmes that support family relationships more systemically and which have shown real potential but not yet been tested in the UK.

Early intervention is a concept that shows great promise, but needs greater application of evidence, investment and testing in order to deliver the improvements in outcomes and reductions in cost that its advocates hope for. We’ll now be using these two reviews as a springboard for making real-world progress on early intervention to support family relationships and parenting over the next few months.

About the author

Donna Molloy

Donna is director of policy & practice at EIF.