The word 'victim'

Focusing on Victims of Crime isn’t Just a Nicety

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in the US runs from 2-8 April 2017 and has prompted me to reflect on the importance of the victim’s voice in delivering effective criminal justice interventions.

NCVRW is led by the Office for Victims of Crime, part of the US Department of Justice, and has taken place every year since 1981. Victims’ rights bodies and law enforcement agencies across America take part.  GtD congratulates all the individuals who work with victims of crime, particularly those who will be honored at this week’s NCVRW award ceremony.

Its continued existence, and the coverage it generates, echoes the ongoing importance of victims of crime in the UK system. Here, victims’ rights have long been a policy priority for central government and a focus for the delivery of services among Police and Crime Commissioners.

Victims are important not least because their very existence indicates that the social contract has broken down. When government takes on responsibility for operating the crime and justice system using taxpayers’ money it does so with an implicit promise to keep citizens safe. Each victim – each shattering experience of crime and the pain felt in its aftermath – represents an individual point of failure, and together they gain a grim weight.

Accordingly, the victims’ lobby can be powerful. Quite rightly, victims’ stories elicit public sympathy and make real the cost of crime, reminding all of us that the damage done is not abstract but measured out in sleepless nights, lasting trauma, and grief. Victims’ satisfaction is therefore central to assessing public confidence in the criminal justice system.

In 2014 Get the Data undertook an evaluation of the Surrey Youth Restorative Intervention (YRI) on behalf of Surrey County Council and Surrey Police. Taking a restorative approach, the Surrey YRI works with both the victim and the offender to address the harm caused and hear how the victim was affected.  Often this concludes with an apology and some form of reparation to the victim.  The idea is that this not only helps victims but also young offenders, making them less likely to reoffend and allowing them to recognise the human cost of their actions. It also avoids criminalising them at a point in their lives when it is not too late to change track.

We found that the Surrey YRI satisfied the victims of crime that were surveyed. On the whole they felt that justice had been done and offenders were held to account. Some individuals also came out of the process expressing greater understanding of the offender and of the lives of young people in their communities. More than one respondent stated that the process made them realise that those who had victimised them were not ‘monsters’.

There’s little to argue with there, then, but such programmes would be hard to justify in today’s economic climate if they also cost a lot more. But, in fact, we found that the YRI cost less to administer per case then a youth caution, and so represented a value-for-money approach to reducing reoffending and satisfying the victim. Putting the needs of victims first, in this case, worked in every sense.

You can read the full text of our report on the Surrey YRI at the Surrey Council website (PDF) and find more information on our evaluation services on the Get the Data website.

The word truth in a maze

Upholding Evidence in the Post-Truth Era

Brexit and the new Trump administration have added “post-truth politics”, “fake news” and “alternative facts” to our political lexicon. Just words?

Well, “words matter”, as the former president reminded us when he launched his own candidacy eight years ago. And these new words matter very much when accompanied with calls to dismiss experts in favour of gut feeling and instinct. Democracy needs to be informed so hearing a senior member of the British Cabinet claim that “people in this country have had enough of experts” was one of the most lamentable claims of the Brexit campaign. All of this is surely at odds with a community of policy researchers and evaluators whose stock in trade is objectivity, fact-finding and balance. So where do we go from here?

Much food for thought comes from the 2016 “Evidence Works” conference. In September 2016, the British based “Alliance for Useful Evidence” collaborated with its American counterpart “Results for All” to convene “Evidence Works 2016: A Global Forum for Government”. Over two days in London, delegates from around the world shared ideas of how governments can use evidence and data in policymaking to improve outcomes for citizens and communities, and their findings are worth sharing here:

  • Government needs diversity of evidence to answer policy questions, and this evidence needs to be timely.
  • To maintain credibility, there is value in keeping some distance between evidence production and government. Independence gives extra authority to evaluation or analysis of policy.
  • Good communication is vital. It’s not easy to pare down a large body of evidence, and technocrats may need to be trained on how to write concise policy briefings.
  • Political leaders and members of the public need to be encouraged to use and demand evidence. Persuading politicians and those controlling the money is not enough. In democracies, we also need to persuade the public to care about evidence.

This was a truly global initiative and there were some notable examples of good practice that we in the West can learn from developing countries. A copy of the report can be found here.

At its best evaluation serves as Socrates’s “gadfly”, challenging assumptions and questioning implicit principles. Public servants – policy makers and evaluators – need to stand their ground, be reasonable and communicate evidence effectively.  If we are indeed entering an era of “post-truth” politics then we need more than ever “to speak truth to power”.

 

 

GtD - Jack Cattell Presenting at PPMRC

GtD’s Jack Cattell – Managing the Data Glut

Last month I had the great pleasure of spending a week in the USA to see for myself how GtD is developing its services in Atlanta, before attending the 9th annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Conference at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Americans and the British may be “divided by a common language”, but I was struck by the common challenges that policy makers and practitioners face on both sides of the Atlantic: ensuring that practice is grounded in “what works?”, getting more “bang for your buck” in service delivery and managing “big data” to understand how policy makers and practitioners are responding to complex social problems. Whether they are based in the U.S. or the U.K., all of us at GtD feel privileged to help our clients to meet these challenges by providing definitive social impact analytics that are helping them to monitor their activities; learn quickly how to improve them; and, ultimately to prove their effectiveness – definitively.

It was the theme of “big data” that took Alan and I to Rutgers University where we were delighted to contribute our thoughts and experiences of “managing the data glut” at the PPMR conference. Drawing on over 20 years of experience of research and evaluation in the criminal justice system, we used our work in the development of the DASHBOARD for the CJS as an example of how to manage the data glut. It provided a clear, illustrative example of how we rationalised over 1,500 separate performance indicators to provide a highly visual and user-friendly dashboard of data that provides managers across the criminal justice system a single version of their performance in bringing offenders to justice.

The presentation we gave at the conference is available to view on our LinkedIn page, please do follow us for updates and information relating to social impact analytics.

Contact my colleague Alan or myself if you would like more information about any of our projects or how our social impact analytics could benefit your organisation. If you believe you are ready to embark on your own social impact journey, you might be interested in our free Strategic Impact Assessment. Please do get in touch if we can be of assistance by emailing us at:

Jack Cattell jack.cattell@getthedata.co.uk

Alan Mackie alan.mackie@gethedata.co.uk

Juvenile justice

Preparing Tomorrow’s Juvenile Justice Leaders for Success

Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders for Success. In delivering evidence of “what works?” GtD is working with juvenile justice leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Recently, Alan Mackie demonstrated the ‘value of evaluation’ to a new generation of leaders at Georgia Gwinnett College. Using GtD’s evaluation of the Youth Restorative Intervention as a case study, Alan showed how evaluation provides definitive evidence of what works in reducing both reoffending and costs to the tax payer. Contact Alan via alan.mackie@getthedata.co.uk to learn how GtD can help your juvenile justice project.

Youth Justice Awareness Month

GtD: Supporting Youth Justice Awareness Month

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month in the United States. In asking “all Americans to observe this month by taking action to support our youth”, President Obama called on more to be done to give children and young people a “second chance”.  In emphasising the importance of education, particularly early-years education, the President said, “When we invest in our children and redirect young people who have made misguided decisions, we can reduce our over-reliance on the juvenile and criminal justice systems and build stronger pathways to opportunity”.

As I have observed before, policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic are currently working to divert young people out of custody – or from even entering the justice system at all. Undoubtedly this new policy direction is driven by the need to cut expenditure as keeping large numbers of young people in prison is simply no longer affordable. However, it’s clear that the policy shift is also motivated by the evidence that the most effective and least damaging forms of intervention are universal services that don’t “criminalise” young people, but seek to address their needs particularly their lack of attainment in education.

Over the past four years GtD has been proud to work with a range of organisations that have delivered better outcomes for young people, whether or not they were involved in the justice system. One of our first evaluation projects was to identify how an education and training project for disadvantaged youth could become more efficient and effective. Since then we have developed our CV of youth work to include: proving the effectiveness of a youth restorative justice intervention and, more recently, helping an organisation to learn “what works?” with developing resilience, independence and maturity in young people. And now we are looking forward to starting a new evaluation of an education, training and employment project for young refugees arriving in the U.S. Youth justice in the U.S. and U.K. is undergoing substantial reform, but there is much more to be done to help young people build, in the President’s words, “stronger pathways to opportunity”.

As a company GtD believes that we can support young people by working with policy makers and practitioners to determine what works best, and for whom. And as our CV demonstrates, successful interventions are delivered when our social impact analytics are integrated into the policy and planning processes. In doing so, GtD is helping our clients to learn how to improve their services and demonstrate their effectiveness.

In this Youth Justice Awareness Month, GtD is inviting youth organisations to contact us for a free 1-hour Strategic Impact Assessment where we’ll take the time to evaluate your current impact management success and identify key areas to develop in order to help your organisation maximise its support for young people. For more details, please contact me at alan.mackie@getthedata.co.uk. On behalf of GtD, thank you for your work with young people and I look forward to hearing from you.

Jack Cattell - Director, Get the Data

Jack Cattell presenting at the PPMRNC at Rutgers

Jack Cattell will be presenting at the Public Performance and Management Reporting Network Conference at Rutgers University later this month. Addressing the theme “Data Driven Decision Making: Navigating the Data Glut”, Jack will focus on GtD’s work in rationalising an organisation’s data to provide clear performance indicators. The conference has attracted speakers from across North America, Europe and Asia and takes place on the 22nd and 23rd September.

Prison Reform and Outcome Measurement

Pomp and pageantry came to Westminster this week, with the Queen’s Speech setting out the British government’s legislative agenda for the coming Parliamentary session. But amid the ermine and jewels was a call for hard, empirical data.

The centre piece of the ‘Gracious Address’ was a major shake-up of the prison system in England. Legislation will be brought forward to give governors of six “reform prisons” unprecedented autonomy over education and work in prisons, family visits, and rehabilitation services. With this autonomy will come accountability and the publication of comparable statistics on reoffending, employment rates on release, and violence and self-harm for each prison.

Further details of the government’s prison reforms were contained “Unlocking Potential”, Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education in England that was published this week. The review includes recommendations to improve basic skills and the quality of vocational training and employability, and also greater personal social development.  Echoing the government’s move to devolve greater autonomy to prison governors, Dame Sally’s review also endorsed the need for governors to be held to account for the educational progress of all prisoners in their jails, and for the outcomes achieved by their commissioning decisions for education.

Improved education outcomes for individual prisoners will be supported by improved assessment of prisoners’ needs and the creation of Personal Learning Plans. However, Dame Sally’s review also made a call for greater performance measurement not only for the sake of accountability, but also for the planning and prioritisation of education services.

As noted before, this is an exciting time for prison reform on both sides of the Atlantic. However, reform must be made on evidence and supported by the hard data. Devolving decision making to those who know best is a bold move but with autonomy comes accountability and transparency. As Dame Sally’s report recommends, accountability and transparency are well served by,

Developing a suite of outcome measures to enable meaningful comparisons to be made between prisons (particularly between those with similar cohorts of offenders) is vital to drive improved performance”.

As the pace of reform continues, GtD looks forward to supporting those reforms with our expertise of outcome measurement and social impact analytics.

Impact Evaluation and Social Impact Bonds

How Rigorous Impact Evaluation Can Improve Social Impact Bonds

Social Impact Bonds

In recent years, Social Impact Bonds are being increasingly used by the British government to deliver public services via outcomes based commissioning. They are also becoming increasingly common in the U.S. By linking payments to good outcomes for society, SIBs are used not only to provide better value for money, but also as a driver of public sector reform. In the words of guidance published by the British government’s Cabinet Office:

“[Social Impact Bonds] are … designed to help reform public service delivery. SIBs improve the social outcomes of publicly funded services by making funding conditional on achieving results. “

While SIBs are not without their critics, their proponents argue that the bonds are a great way to attract private investment to the public sector while focusing all partners on the delivery of the desired social outcomes. This new way of commissioning services also encourages prime contractors to subcontract delivery of some service to the community and voluntary organisations, who bring their own experience, expertise and diversity to the provision of social services.

GtD have completed evaluations that have helped shape social impact bonds, and through our work we have identified five key questions that should be asked by anyone thinking of setting up a SIB or is looking to improve the design of their SIB:

1. Will it work?

Some services delivered by SIBs fail before they start because the planned intervention cannot plausibly achieve the desired outcome. In other words, just because an intervention reduced the number of looked after children entering the criminal justice system doesn’t mean it should work for all young people at risk of offending. That said, if the evidence base around a particular intervention is weak that does not mean one should not proceed – but it should promote a SIB design that includes an evaluation that can state quickly whether the SIB is delivering the hoped for outcomes.

2. Who can benefit from this intervention and who can’t?

We all want to help as many people as possible. However, we can quickly lose sight of who we are seeking to help when we are simply meeting output targets. In other words, if public services are funded by the number of clients they see, then providers could be tempted to increase numbers by accepting referrals of people for whom the service was not intended. So to achieve your outcomes – and receive payments – it’s vital to monitor intelligently the profile of your beneficiaries and ask yourself, “If my targeting were perfect are these the clients I would want to work with to deliver my intended outcomes?”

3. Are we doing what we said we were going to do? And does it work?

Interventions can fail simply because they don’t do what you said you were going to do. If, for example, you are working with young people to raise career prospects and your operating model includes an assessment of need (because the evidence base suggests that assessments increase effectiveness) then it should be no surprise that you did not meet your outcome targets if an assessment was completed with only half of your clients. Identifying your key outputs, monitoring their use and predicting outcomes based on their use can give you much greater confidence in achieving your intended impact.

4. What do we need to learn and how do we learn quickly?

All SIBs we have seen collate a lot of data about their beneficiaries and the service provided but few use those data to their full potential. With predictive analysis, we can monitor who appears to respond best, who is not benefiting and what form of service delivery is the most effective. In other words, is one-to-one work or group work more cost effective? As such you can learn how to define your referral criteria better or learn how to improve your operating model, even within the first months of a SIB.

5. How can we build a counterfactual?

A counterfactual is an estimation of what outcomes would have been achieved without the SIB. Comparing your SIB’s outcomes to the counterfactual can highlight some areas for learning and how to improve over time. Consideration should be given to the counterfactual at the commencement of the SIB. Full advantage can be taken of the publically available data sets to construct the counterfactual: for example, the National Pupil Database, Justice Data Lab or the Health Episode statistics. (Top tip: consent from beneficiaries to use these data sources is generally required).

To discuss how GtD’s impact evaluation can help improve your organisation’s SIB, please contact Jack Cattell, jack.cattell@getthedata.co.uk