Where is the really useful evidence?
I recently took part in a discussion organised by Nesta about the newly formed Alliance for Useful Evidence.
We tried to get beyond the philosophical debate about what really constitutes evidence and challenges around attribution, causality or verification that policy people the world over tie themselves in knots about.
We attempted to get to the heart of the issue: people and organisations need good solid information to base decisions on.
Funding in Scotland
Here in Scotland, BIG is currently funding around 3,000 third sector and community organisations, little and large, in every part of the country.
Providing evidence is central to these relationships, whether its evidence which helps us assess a funding application, evidence of the impact funded projects are making or evidence that organisations are learning lessons from the projects we fund.
In recent years we've seen real improvement in how applicants provide evidence to support their funding applications to us, but it is still difficult for many.
It's hard to report on outcomes, qualify impact, report evidence. There has been very low uptake of SROI or evaluation analysis that offers comparable evidence.
That's why when an applicant gets funding from BIG, they get support from us to evaluate their work themselves.
We're not prescriptive about how projects work and ongoing funding isn't conditional on what they find, but what is important to us is that organisations develop capability and confidence around conducting evaluation of their work, and build a culture of reflective practice in their work.
Lastly, many third sector organisations still view - or endure! - evaluation as something they need to do to satisfy funders or commissioners. It's true that evaluation is justifiably important to those who fund or pay for services and projects.
But it's also something that can help organisations themselves better understand and improve the effectiveness of their work, and influence wider policy and practice. No one wants to make the same mistakes others have already made.
At BIG we have some positive experience of being able to find and utilise evidence to inform both our priorities and our funding approach.
For example, our recent funding programme to support victims of domestic abuse saw us use evaluation findings on effective approaches to helping women and children affected by domestic abuse, and fund the roll-out of these approaches into many more areas.
Things that work
We think this is a good way of replicating proven examples of good practice.
Funders want to pay for things that work. Delivery organisations want to be confident that what they are doing works, or know if there is something that might work better.
And policy-makers and researchers want to know about interesting practice, methods or trends.
A role for the Alliance for really useful evidence?
(The views in this blog are the author's own and not necessarily those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence)