About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Six key questions for parent power

In this guest blog, Ben Hartridge from Dartington Service Design Lab talks about the 'sector evidence plan' for parent power, which they developed together with us as part of our work supporting 'parent-powered approaches' to family support.

“More research is required…”

If there is one thing that unites all research projects, it is this conclusion. Not that it’s wrong: all research and learning projects generate new knowledge but also highlight where there are gaps in what we know. The Dartington Service Design Lab’s recent three-month collaboration with Nesta sought to understand the potential of parents to provide family support to their peers with children in their early years.

We generated useful new insights, but also found out where we need to know more. However, we believed we could do better than say simply that “more research is required”.

So, we developed a Sector Evidence Plan for parent power. It sets out the six most important questions for the sector that can be answered through empirical research. We also proposed research methods for answering each question. We hope that this plan will be used as a point of reference for bids, proposals and tenders for future research.

We collaborated with other academics, practitioners and funders to ensure that the six questions are relevant priorities for those who will use the knowledge. We brought together both sides of the evidence exchange: those generating the research knowledge, and the people who are out there using it. We’re confident that these questions are important for those working at all levels in practice.

Six priorities for research into parent-powered family support

You can read the full Sector Evidence Plan in the Parents Helping Parents report (see Annex B). Each page of this report sets out one of the six priority questions, setting out (a) why it is important, (b) why there is a gap in our knowledge, and (c) which research methods we can use to answer the question.

For now, here’s a summary of the six questions.

  1. Which outcomes can parent-powered approaches promote and for whom?
  2. What skills and experience do parents have that they want to use to help other parents?
  3. How can parent-powered and professionally delivered services best complement one another to promote outcomes?
  4. How can we use funding (public and charitable) be used to create the conditions for parents to take and lead action themselves?
  5. What are the best ways of managing risk and ensuring safeguarding without professional lines of accountability?
  6. What are the potentially harmful consequences of peer dynamics and how can we mitigate them?

Often, the use of parent-powered approaches in public services remains value driven, determined by winning over the ‘hearts and minds’ of leaders. Although we can draw from the evidence that does exist, such as reviews from the Early Intervention Foundation or A Better Start’s Volunteering and Early Childhood Outcomes Evidence Review, a greater investment in evidence is needed to help show the instrumental value of parent-powered approaches. We therefore hope that these questions can act as a guide or starting point for future research.


Ben Hartridge

Ben was a researcher with Dartington Service Design Lab, working on children's social care, early years and homelessness. He is now a trainee social worker.