The research and evaluation team work on a variety of projects. We want our independent evaluations to be useful and result in the creation of robust evidence. We do this by:
- Tailoring research methods so that they are appropriate and proportionate
- Supporting continuous learning through action research, taking a ‘prove and improve’ approach
- Co-designing projects, to ensure that we are focusing on what matters
- Embedding peer research in evaluation design, delivery and outputs
- Creating sensible and achievable recommendations.
Central to our research and evaluations is what we learn. This blog details the themes that have emerged from our evaluations. The evaluations are starting to paint a picture of what services work, and how they help people in a range of circumstances and with different needs. We are learning about how to enable people experiencing homelessness and/or mental ill health and substance use as well as ex-offenders, to have positive experiences and make progress towards their goals.
We have evaluated services all over the country, including for large and small charities Evaluations have varied in scale. For example, our evaluation of Birmingham Changing Futures Together is a five-year project where we have worked alongside the service and become familiar with their unique context. But we also do shorter projects to help organisations understand a certain set of issues, quickly.
Despite the different shape, size, place, or length of evaluations we undertake, we’ve been struck by the consistent way a set of themes have emerged - time and time again.
Early intervention is both beneficial and important. This involves services working with individuals to prevent problems from occurring or before the issues they are experiencing get worse. Early intervention helps to reduce the negative impact of the challenges that people are facing. For example, advice about money management can reduce the likelihood of someone getting into debt, supporting people to access necessary medication may prevent their mental and/or physical health from deteriorating, and supporting people to access accommodation and welfare benefits can reduce the risk of homelessness upon release from prison.
As early intervention can help to reduce the likelihood of people turning to expensive crisis services and re-offending, it makes financial sense to invest in prevention.
Safe and stable accommodation
Housing is always discussed when we speak to services and their clients about support needs. People tell us that secure accommodation provides stability and safety. It keeps them away from negative influences. Delivery staff explained that if housing issues were not resolved, it was difficult to make progress with other areas of individuals’ lives. Unfortunately, we consistently observe a shortage of good quality accommodation in all the places we have conducted research.
Lived experience involvement and peer support
We have been encouraged to see an increase in organisations including people with lived experience in the design and delivery of programmes.
Our evaluation findings have highlighted the benefits of support being delivered by people with lived experience. This includes staff with lived experience being able to better engage people who are often defined by services as ‘hard to reach’. We consistently hear that people in services feel more able to establish a trusting relationship with others who ‘get it’. In those instances there is no substitute for lived experience.
Our research has demonstrated the value people place on peer support. People appreciate being able to learn from others with similar experiences, peer support has made them feel less alone in their daily struggles and it has provided an opportunity for people to share their skills and experiences to help others.
What we do next
We are excited to see what else we learn about service delivery going forward and to continue to co-produce evaluation projects with services and peer researchers. If you want to work with us, then get in touch by emailing Lauren.Bennett@revolving-doors.org.uk.
In the meantime, we recommend that services consider whether their provision is accessible to those who would benefit from the support most. We encourage organisations to create formal roles for individuals with lived experience, as we have seen first-hand the positive impact that this can have on delivery. Finally, we know there are clear benefits of delivery organisations having positive relationships and partnerships with housing providers to help to address this critical and often universal support need.
The ongoing evaluation of the Birmingham Changing Futures Together (BCFT) programme has recently focused on three elements of the programme:
- an understanding of the current experiences of people with multiple and complex needs
- the impact of Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) training on staff and their working methods
- the impact of the ‘Expert by Experience’ programme on the wider system.
This report draws together key highlights and learning for the overall programme. Lessons can be learned, and positive aspects reinforced and used to influence systems change.
Service users were more positive than before about engaging with the support available from services across Birmingham. However, some service users were not aware of the wider range of services available, and more should be done to inform people with complex needs.
The PIE training of staff was important in the wider picture of engaging often entrenched service users. Service users viewed staff who had undertaken PIE training as having an increased level of skill and compassion. And most staff reported PIE training as enabling them to read between the lines, pause and consider the best way to respond to clients.
Service users in Birmingham were very positive about the staff working with them, and PIE training has undoubtedly had an impact. The work of Lead Workers and Peer Mentors was highly valued and appeared to make tangible difference to outcomes. Stakeholders were also overwhelmingly positive about the preparedness, work ethic and desire to change the system shown by the ‘Experts by Experience’.
Despite system change being the central aim of the BCFT programme, there is a lack of understanding among stakeholders of what system change is – both as a concept and specifically in the context of Birmingham. Against this backdrop, however, there was evidence of positive impacts on service users and ‘Experts by Experience’. There was also evidence that some services were working well together, though more could be done to make this more seamless.