Evaluation for accountability courts

Building on Success: Evaluation for Accountability Courts

Across the U.S. Accountability Courts are proving effective in reducing substance misuse and lowering recidivism. Once again, our home state of Georgia is in the vanguard of reform. Next week, GtD will be attending the annual conference of the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia to show how evaluation can be used to build on these successes.   

Accountability courts provide interventions that address the mental health, substance misuse and other health issues that can be associated with an individual’s criminal behaviour. Designed to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, those who are eligible will agree to completing a plan of action that includes counselling, support and regular drug testing by the court. While sanctions are imposed for those who violate a rule of the program or relapse, the court will be the forum for recognizing and congratulating an individual’s progress.

Once again Georgia is in the vanguard of criminal justice reform. Of the estimated 2,500 accountability courts in the U.S., 93 of them are in Georgia.  With the mounting evidence that they are successful in reducing substance misuse and lowering recidivism, there is also a good economic case to promote accountability courts over the use of jail. But if the evidence is there, what is the role of evaluation?  To answer this question GtD will be attending the annual conference of the Council of Accountability Courts of Georgia.

Building on Success

Although accountability courts can be successful, more can be done to improve, replicate and sustain this innovative approach. So, whether a new accountability court is being set up, an existing program is being extended or a funder needs evidence of impact, then GtD’s social impact analytics can provide definitive data to assist courts measure, learn and prove their impact.

Measuring

If a court is implementing a new program, GtD’s Impact Measurement Service will determine its intended impacts, how to measure them and identify what resources will be required. In providing this service we will collect data and report analyses that will be relevant to judges, court managers and practitioners.

Learning

GtD’s social impact analytics can help accountability courts improve their existing programs. Our Predictive Analysis service will help practitioners identify what is working best for offenders, and will provide information for managers to re-define high-quality interventions and deliver a more effective program.

Proving

Ultimately, accountability courts will want to prove their impact. Our rigorous Impact Evaluation service will provide definitive evidence of reductions in recidivism, lower substance misuse and the wider benefits to individual offenders, the local criminal justice system and community.

If you are attending next week’s conference, come by GtD’s table in the exhibition hall to learn more of the value of our social impact analytics for your court.    

A lightbulb of cogs to illustrate service innovation

Service Innovation – Segment and Conquer

Supermarkets use data to sell us more of the things we want, and even things we don’t yet know we want – a real world example of service innovation through segmentation that we can learn from.

In social policy, we all know that there is no one programme or service that will work equally well for everyone in the target cohort. Even if it is having an impact across the board there will be some people for whom it works better than others and that’s where extra value can be squeezed out.

We might roll our eyes at the buzz-phrase ‘customer segmentation’, and of course there’s a difference between tailoring public services and selling sausages, but both require a similar approach to gathering data, analysing it, and in a sense letting it lead the way.

In the case of Tesco it’s about working out what shoppers want and selling it to them – a far easier job than convincing them to buy things in which they have no interest, a win for both parties. With public services it’s a matter of thinking in broad terms where we want people to end up – or not end up, as the case may be – and then letting what bubbles up from the data determine the most efficient route, and even the specific end point.

For example, working with one client that specialises in tackling youth offending, our data analysis found that though their intervention was effective overall, it was less effective at reducing offending among 12 to 13-year-olds than among young people of 15 and 16. By treating these two segments differently the overall impact of the intervention can be improved and more young people can be set on the right path at the right moment in their lives.

This approach challenges current orthodoxy which would have us determine our theory of change and set out clearly how we will achieve a given outcome before starting work. This can lead people to impose an analysis on the data after the fact, forcing it to fit the predetermined course. It also implies that all service users need more or less the same thing and we know very well that they don’t. The orthodox approach has its place, of course, once data has been collected and analysed, when we can start to make predictions based on prior knowledge.

Equally, it’s not efficient to design a bespoke service for every single end user, but there is a sweet spot in which we can identify sub-groups and thus wring out more value from programmes with relatively little additional time, manpower or funding. I’ll finish with another example: we have been designing approaches to impact management with a number of providers of universal services for young people and adult disability services. These agencies work with different sorts of people, with varying needs, and for whom different outcomes are desirable. Advanced statistical analysis can help us identify groups within that complex body and lead to service innovation which is both tailored and general.

Influence through Data

“Yeah, Says Who?” – Influence Through Data

You know you’ve achieved results – the data tells you so – but how do you influence sceptics to believe it?

It can be a rude awakening to take the findings of a study outside your own team or organisation, where trust and mutual support are more or less a given. In front of a wider audience of funding providers or other stakeholders, you will inevitably in my experience find yourself being challenged hard.

This is as it should be – scrutiny is a key part of a healthy system – but, at the same time, it’s always a shame to see an impactful project or programme struggle purely because its operators fail to sell it effectively.

Fortunately, while there are no black-and-white rules, there are some things you can do to improve your chances.

Confidence = Influence

When I present findings I do so with a confidence that comes with experience and from really understanding the underlying mechanics. But if you’re not a specialist and don’t have that experience there are things you can do to make yourself feel more confident and thus inspire greater confidence in your audience.

First, make sure you have thought through and recorded a data management policy. Are you clear how often data should be entered? If information is missing, what will you do to fill the gaps? What are your processes for cleaning and regularising data? Is there information you don’t need to record? A professional, formalised approach to keeping timely and accurate data sends all the right signals about your competence and the underlying foundations of your work.

Secondly, use the data as often as possible, and share the analysis with those who enter your data so that they can understand its purpose, and own it. Demonstrating that your data is valued and has dedicated, accountable managers hugely increases its (and your) credibility.

Thirdly, take the initiative in checking the reliability and validity of your own tools. If you use well-being questionnaires, for example, take the time to check whether they are really measuring what you want to measure in most instances. In other words, try to find fault with your own approach before your stakeholders so that when they find a weak point you have an answer ready that not only reassures them but also underlines the objectivity with which you approach your work.

Own Your Data’s Imperfections

Finally, and this might feel counterintuitive, you should identify the weaknesses in your own data and analysis and be honest about them. All data and analysis has limitations and being clear about those, and the compromises made to work around them demonstrates objectivity which, again, reinforces credibility.

In conclusion, the better you understand your own data and analysis, flaws and all, the more comfortable and confident you will feel when it, in turn, comes under scrutiny.

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 2 – Change & Competence

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 2 – Change & Competence

People don’t want to fund projects, or organisations, or even people – they want to fund change. And they want to work with professionals who know the territory.

Last week  I introduced the three hallmarks of a good evaluation plan and covered the first of those, “relevance”, in some detail. This week, I’m unpacking the others.

The second hallmark is evidence that evaluation, as planned, will promote learning and change within an organisation.  In our experience at Get the Data, we know that not all organisations are ready for change, so reassuring funding bodies of that willingness at the outset is a good tactical move. You can support this by engaging with changemakers within your organisation – those individuals who, if the evaluation demands change, have the desire and ability to make it happen.

For our part, Get the Data’s cutting edge predictive analyses are helping practitioners to identify what will work best for their clients. Managers are using that information to improve interventions, predict future impact and, in the case of social impact bonds, forecast future income. All of which, of course, goes to demonstrate a focus on improving results through intelligent change.

Knowing Your Stuff

The third and final hallmark of a good evaluation plan is evidence of technical competence which will reassure funding assessors that they are dealing with people who are truly immersed in the field in which they are working.

In practice, that means employing the agreed professional nomenclature of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts; and also demonstrating an awareness of the appropriate methods for impact and process evaluation. Though this is partly about sending certain signals (like wearing appropriate clothing to a job interview) it is by no means superficial: it also enables assessors to compare your bid fairly against others, like for like, which is especially important in today’s competitive environment. In effect, it makes their job easier.

Organisations that commission Get the Data are working with some of the most vulnerable people in society. We value their work and are committed to using quantitative methods of evaluation to determine their impact. We are proud that our impact evaluations are not only delivering definitive reports on the impact of their work but also play a decisive role in ensuring vital interventions continue. A rigorous evaluation is a business case, a funding argument and publicity material all in one.

I hope you have found this short introduction to the hallmarks of a good evaluation plan useful.  If you want to learn more about how our social impact analytics can support your application for grant funding then contact me or sign up for a free one-hour Strategic Impact Assessment via our website.

 

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan

Hallmarks of a Good Evaluation Plan Part 1 – Introduction & Relevance

When a potential funder glances at your application for a grant will they see reassuring signs of quality or something that immediately makes them wary?

When an antique collector finds what they suspect is a piece of fine English silverware they flip it over and look for a set of hallmarks – simple indicators that certify the metal, identify the maker, the place of production, and the year of manufacture. It can help them distinguish quickly between, say, an item of 17th-century sterling silver produced in London by a famous craftsman, and a mass-produced reproduction with only a thin plating of the real thing.

Similarly, it strikes me that there are three hallmarks of a good evaluation plan. First, it should be relevant. Secondly, it ought to promote adaptive change. And, finally, it must be technically competent. Get this right and you will certainly have a funder’s attention.

What has got me thinking about all this lately is a presentation I’ll be giving at the National Grant Conference which takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, between 25 and 27 July 2017, sponsored by the American Grant Writers’ Association.

My presentation complements the work Get the Data does in the UK where our social impact analytics practice provides organisations, including non-profits with the expertise they need to measure, improve and prove their impact. Our social impact analytics are often used to convince careful funding bodies to fund or invest in programs which ultimately assist the most vulnerable in society.

Demonstrating Relevance

So, going back to the first of those hallmarks mentioned above – what sells an evaluation plan as relevant? You have to know, first, what your organisation needs and what type of evaluation you are looking to conduct. Practitioners, board members and those responsible for awarding funding all think constantly about what impact they are seeking to achieve, how to measure it, and how they can achieve it with the resources at their disposal. You need to convey to them that you understand their priorities and mission and tie your work into theirs.

Of course, that’s easier said than done: stakeholders very often value different impact information so there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. This is an area where Get the Data can help. Our impact management services can assist in defining the needs of an organisation, and through smart reporting and analysis systems will ensure individual stakeholders can find the information that matters to them.

In the next post in this series, I will consider how we can help deliver an evaluation plan that promotes adaptive change and is technically competent.

In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you if you would like to learn more about how our social impact analytics can support your application for grant funding email me to get the conversation started.

Please also visit our website where you can sign up for a free one-hour Strategic Impact Assessment in which we’ll take the time to evaluate your current impact management success and will identify key areas to develop in order to help your organisation maximise your social impact.

 

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.

Image of data being analysed

There’s no Magic Way of Measuring Impact

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of measuring your social impact across multiple projects using a single dependable statistic? Well, I’ve got some bad news, and some good.

I was recently talking to a charity who wanted to know how if they could go about measuring and reporting the overall impact of the organisation on children and families. With multiple strands each aiming to achieve different things, they asked if a single outcome measure – one accurate, reliable number – to sum up the impact of the whole organisation was either possible or desirable.

First, here’s the bad news: it’s very unlikely – I might even be so bold as to say impossible – that any such thing exists. You might think you’ve found one that works but when you put in front of a critic (or a nitpicking critical friend, like me) it will probably get ripped apart in seconds.

Of course, if there is a measure that works across multiple projects, even if not all of them, you should use it, but don’t be tempted to shoehorn other projects into that same framework.

It’s true that measuring impact requires compromise but an arbitrary measure, or one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, is the wrong compromise to make.

The Good News

There is, however, a compromise that can work, and that is having the confidence to aggregate upwards knowing your project level data are sound. You might say, for example, that together your projects improved outcomes for 10,000 families, and then give a single example from an individual project that improved service access or well-being to support the claim. In most situations that will be more meaningful than any contrived, supposedly universal measure of impact.

Confidence is the key, though: for this to work you need to find a reliable way of measuring and expressing the success of each individual project, and have ready in reserve information robust enough to hold up to scrutiny.

Measuring Means Data

In conclusion, the underlying solution to the challenge of measuring impact, and communicating it, is a foundation of good project level data. That will also make it easier to improve performance and give you more room to manoeuvre. Placing your faith in a single measure, even if you can decide upon one, could leave you vulnerable in a shifting landscape.

 

Images showing analysis, in a light bulb to illustrate project evalution

You Might Be Winning but Not Know It

Have you ever eagerly awaited the results of a project impact study or external evaluation only to be disappointed to be told you had no impact? ‘How can this be?’ you might ask. ‘The users liked it, the staff saw the difference being made, and the funding provider was ecstatic!’ The fact is, if you’re trying to gauge the final success of a project without having analysed your data throughout its life, proving you made a difference is bound to be difficult.

Of course we would all like to know before we invest in a project whether it’s going to work. As that’s practically impossible (sorry) the next best thing is to know as soon as we can whether it is on a path to success or, after the fact, whether it has been successful. But even that, in my view, isn’t always quite the right question: more often we should be asking instead what it has achieved, and for whom.

In most cases – rugby matches and elections aside – success isn’t binary, it’s complex, but good data analysed intelligently can reduce the noise and help to make sense of what is really going on.

A service might in practice work brilliantly for one cohort but have negligible impact on another, skewing anecdotal results. Changes might, for example, boost achievement among girls but do next to nothing for boys, leading to the erroneous conclusion that it has failed outright. Or perhaps across the entire group, attainment is stubbornly unmoving but attendance is improving – a significant success, just not the one anyone expected. Dispassionate, unprejudiced data can reveal that your project is achieving more than you’d hoped for.

Equally, if the goalposts are set in concrete, consistently mining that data can give you the insight you need to learn, improve and change tack to achieve the impact you want while the project is underway. Or, at least, to check that you’re collecting and reviewing the right data – if the answer to any of your questions is a baffled shrug or an anecdote (and it too often is, in my experience) then you have a problem.

I’ll be circling back for a detailed look at some of the case studies hinted at above, as well as several others covering various fields, in later posts in this series.

In the meantime, consider the project that keeps you awake at night – where are its dark corners, and what good news might be lurking there?

The Centre for Youth Impact logo

The Centre for Youth Impact – Conference 16th March

We’re pleased to announce that Jack will be hosting a workshop at The Centre for Youth Impact’s ‘The Measure and the Treasure: Evaluation in personal and social development’ conference on 16th March.

The Centre for Youth Impact is hosting the day-long conference to focus on issues of measurement and personal and social development.

“The day will explore policy, practical and philosophical debates about whether, why and how we should seek to measure the development of social and emotional skills (or non-cognitive skills, soft skills and character, amongst other terms) in young people. We are planning a thought-provoking and engaging day that introduces participants to a range of ideas and activities, and are particularly keen to draw in thinking from outside the ‘traditional’ youth sector.

The question of how to measure and evidence the development of social and emotional skills in young people remains one of the key challenges youth organisations feel they are facing, and many practitioners raise ethical, technical and practical questions about the extent to which this is feasible, desirable and even useful. As such, we want to convene a day that will bring individuals with a wide range of perspectives into the same space to share, explore and progress their thinking, with a focus on practical application.”

Kenton Hall – Communications Officer, The Centre for Youth Impact

To find out more visit http://bit.ly/2mBVOWY

 

Crime doesn't pay written on a blackboard

CRC Reoffending Rates: Who’s Striving, Who’s Struggling?

CRC Reoffending Rates: Who’s striving, who’s struggling? Or should we all move to the North West?

Last week the MoJ released the interim Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) proven reoffending rates for cohorts that started orders or licences between October and December 2015. As it is now 12 months since the first payment by results cohort started, I thought it would be interesting and helpful to review the performance of the CRCs – the final results will be available in October 2017. If you don’t know, the CRCs are privately run probation services set up in 2014 to manage less harmful offenders and to reduce reoffending rates. As such, part of their payment from the Ministry of Justice is based upon how well they reduce reoffending compared to a 2011 baseline. If the reoffending rate increases the CRC’s contract could be terminated.

The payment mechanism is complex – see here for the important documents. The basics are that if the CRC’s reoffending rate is lower than the 2011 baseline rate, having adjusted any differences in offenders’ likelihood of reoffending, then the CRC will receive a payment. Being just 0.1% lower would not be good enough to trigger a payment – the CRC’s rate must be statistically significantly lower (I have not found in the public domain information on how significant the reduction must be – do contact me if you know of a source).

Not enough data have been released to estimate which CRC will receive a payment (the 2011 baseline rates have not been published for example) but there are enough published data to assess the relative performance of each CRC. Each CRC’s published reoffending rate cannot be directly compared because the CRCs’ offenders will present with varying likelihoods of reoffending. Fortunately the OGRS4 expected one year reoffending rates were published. With this information, I estimated what each CRC’s proven reoffending rate would be if likelihood of reoffending was exactly the same in company (the adjusted rate – I used the average OGRS4 rate across all CRCs which was 45.7%). The results are in the chart below.

Figure 1: Interim and adjusted reoffending rates in the 21 CRCS (Oct to Dec 2015 Cohort, reoffending rate to December 2016).

Table showing Interim and adjusted reoffending rates in the 21 CRCS
Source: Interim proven reoffending statistics for the Community Rehabilitation Companies and National Probation Service supporting tables January 2017. See table for bases.

There is a large 17.2% spread in interim proven reoffending rate in the MoJ data. This is reduced to a 9.5% spread in the adjusted reoffending rate. The lowest adjusted rate is in Merseyside (34.4%) and the highest is in Warwickshire & West Mercia (43.9%).  There appears to be regional clustering at the top and bottom of the chart. Three of the four CRCs with the lowest adjusted rates are in the North West – Merseyside, Cumbria and Lancashire and Cheshire & Greater Manchester – and the neighbouring areas South Yorkshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire & North Yorkshire, and Durham Tees Valley make up three of the four areas with the highest adjusted rates. This clustering could be due to police practice, the CRCs’ effective work, efficient court processes or in or an unknown factor altogether.

These results do not mean the providers in the North West can expect a payment to come their way. We do not know the baseline to which they will be compared and there is another 6 months of convictions data to be included (the proven reoffending measure includes offences within 12 months that are convicted within 18 months). Also there is likely to be an area effect that is not included in the OGRS4 measure but will be in the 2011 baseline rate. However, the differences do suggest that persons interested in how to reduce reoffending rates should visit the North West to understand if they are doing anything different there.

Table 1: Results in all 21 CRCs

Table Showing Results in all 21 CRCs

Source: Interim proven reoffending statistics for the Community Rehabilitation Companies and National Probation Service supporting tables January 2017.