When common sense is not enough

When common sense is not enough

Clare Hammond and Clara Mascaro on using Cost Benefit Analysis to justify investing in prevention

The saying goes: “It’s better to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to park an ambulance at the bottom.” And this common-sense notion that it is better to prevent than to cure has in the last decade also become an accepted principle in public policy. This has been helped by the influential work of the Early Action Taskforce and other bodies such as NESTA.

But putting common sense into practice is often easier said than done. Designing a preventative intervention involves important decisions such as when to intervene, and whether the intervention should be universal or targeted at a specific group of people. In particular, making a solid financial case for investing in preventative strategies is proving to be the ‘do or die’ of whether these are implemented at all. This is where cost-benefit analyses (CBAs) have a crucial role to play.

…the costs and benefits of prevention are spread over time…

A major difficulty for financing such interventions is that service providers bear the costs now, for a service that may create benefits in the future – often 5, 10 or 20+ years in the future. Well beyond any service budget or political term. Convincing service providers to divert already limited money from those who need it now, to benefits in the future is a tough one. Particularly with all the uncertainty that goes with things not in the here and now.

… the costs are usually borne by one service and the benefits received by another…

The agency bearing the costs is not always the agency reaping the benefits. For example, a local authority may invest in a programme to facilitate youth transitions from school, but the savings from reduced youth unemployment will accrue to DWP as a result of having fewer out-of-work benefit claimants. In a world of siloed budgets and service pressures and demands for results, moving money across organisations, even within the public sector, is complex.

…the solution is trust and coordination between agencies – and a lot of hard evidence…

To support investment in preventative strategies, co-operation is needed. This could be facilitated by pooling and integrating budgets. For example, this is what happens with Health and Social Care Partnerships, which bring together local authorities and NHS Boards across agencies and institutions.


However, when such integration is not an option, strong partnership working, coordination and trust is needed to encourage investment. This can be helped by cost-benefit analyses showing who will benefit from an intervention, by how much and when. On this basis, agreements can be made between agencies to share the costs and benefits of a preventative intervention.

…Cost Benefit Analysis is critical to underpin conversations and agreements between agencies that build this coordination and trust…

CBAs can be used to make a case for investment now for future savings. By clearly showing the expected costs, savings, those who pay, those who benefit and when, decisions about prevention become more tangible. We have been working with a number of Local Authorities and service providers to create CBAs that help them to better understand and articulate the costs and benefits of a range of preventative investments.

A few of these include:

·        Helping the Dundee Partnership to estimate the likely savings to a range of agencies from reducing the incidence and duration of long term unemployment. Our work also identified who to invest in, when, and how to successfully prevent long term unemployment

·        The London Borough of Havering where we created a CBA to estimate the savings to the Local Authority from our recommended interventions to reduce unemployment. These savings were as a result of less demand for council services such as social work, care and housing

·        For a charity called The Yard Scotland, we estimated the savings to the Local Authority of their service through reducing the demand for council funded respite care for children and young people with disabilities by preventing issues from escalating.

In a context of tight budgets, a complicated landscape of provision, and a short-term bias, CBAs can provide the supporting weight to tip the scales in favour of early action. We may all agree that ‘it is better to prevent than to cure’ but, in this case, common sense alone won’t make prevention happen.


Clare is a Principal Consultant at Rocket Science based in our Edinburgh office.  You can check out her profile here.

A broken fingernail and the #forgottenmany

A broken fingernail and the #forgottenmany

Why we need to rethink how we fund need and look beyond the Indices of Multiple Deprivation.

A few months ago, I was chatting to a group of my peers at a networking event about all things London. It was going well until a wave of incredulity swept over me followed by a collective rolling of eyes, when I revealed that I was leading a project to understand unmet need in the London Borough of Richmond.

“Need? Poor loves… Did someone break a fingernail and couldn’t get to the nail bar in time” exclaimed one, “Or perhaps they tripped over a grape at Waitrose” chortled another. Usually when I talk about my work, it often piques some professional interest from others, feigned or otherwise. I was certainly not expecting derision.

When we started this work last summer, we had to really think about what need looks like in an area measured by high wealth and low deprivation. We also had to think about the implications of that need in terms of funding, service delivery and public sector investment.

Nearly ten years ago, we conducted a similar piece of research, albeit different in approach, for the Cripplegate Foundation. Invisible Islington clearly illustrated the dynamics of need and challenge in a borough where wealth and poverty live side by side.  We anticipated that we would reach similar findings in Richmond, although we did not expect need to be so heavily impacted by the local economy and housing market.

There is a price to pay for living in the borough when you are in need.

  • Choices about how you spend your Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment are restricted as the cost of services are high, leaving you unable to pay for all the care to which you are entitled.
  • Care costs are at a premium, driven up by competition, and demand exceeding local supply as care workers have to commute because they cannot afford to live locally.
  • Despite strong transport routes in places, in others, many people find it difficult getting around and cannot spare money for a bus fare.
  • Disabled people unable to access services, living in fear of benefit sanctions and experiencing hate crime.
  • Mental health issues being exacerbated by a disjointed system as vulnerable people ‘bump’ around services, having multiple assessments but experiencing little follow-through and action.
  • Many just about coping but living On the Edge of crisis. A change in circumstance, a charity closing or a service restricting access could tip the balance and put them in a crisis. Not just a terrible cost for them but also creating greater costs on the public purse. Resolving crisis is far more expensive than preventing it in the first place.


Admittedly this pattern of need could be found anywhere in any place. But Richmond is one of the last places one would expect it to be so marked. Our work in other London boroughs, is highlighting a growing issue of increased polarisation between poverty and wealth. This is something we identified in Islington in 2008, but it is getting worse as a consequence of the compounding effects of the London housing market, welfare reform and cost of living.

The problem with places like Richmond and other outer London boroughs, is that deprivation and need is dispersed over a wider area and not concentrated within a particular postcode. Rural areas face similar challenges as do many other places across the country.

Making funding or investment decisions based on where an area scores on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) ignores the fact that need still exists. This means that people in need who live in these areas suffer a double disadvantage – they do not get access to funding others can get and are less likely to be able access services to help them either because they do not exist or are too far away.   We are calling these people the #forgottenmany.

Many of the charities we speak to are not able to access funding because IMD is used to make funding decisions and therefore their applications fall at the first hurdle. These charities, often smaller, provide vital support and services to the #forgottenmany, but face greater risk of cutbacks and closure as they cannot get funded.

We know the competition for funding is getting harder and harder and that IMD will continue to be used a way of knocking out deserving causes. So we have to find new ways of harnessing investment and resources to address need. But we also have to rethink how we make decisions on funding need. Whilst IMD is one instrument, it has its flaws.

Finally, we must reset our thinking, perceptions and prejudices about places.  Okay the broken fingernail comment was in jest and in a small group.

But I bet many others would have thought the same thing. Did you?

Our research in Richmond was funded by Richmond Parish Lands Charity and Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity included; a review of data, consultation with over 80 organisations and interviews with residents to capture their story what life feels like when you are in need in Richmond.  ‘On the Edge’ officially launches on the 9th May 2017. Contact me if you would like more information.

Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.

Inclusive Impact – capturing ALL voices

Inclusive Impact – capturing ALL voices

How can you involve vulnerable young people and their families in measuring social impact? Clare Hammond talks about our work for The Yard in Scotland, developing their first Social Return on Investment report.

We have been working with The Yard Scotland and their community since June 2016. The Yard provides safe play spaces and respite for young people with disabilities and their families. During our time with The Yard, we conducted a Social Return on Investment and Cost Benefit Analysis to be able to evidence and quantify the impact their service has on families and how much they save other service providers such as the Local Authority.

For Rocket Science, the voice of the service user should be present, loud and clear, and the central driving force for any impact analysis. Social researchers the world around can talk to you about sampling sizes, interview techniques, and running a great focus group to get that voice. However, social impact research gets slightly more complicated when service users are less able to engage with the more traditional research processes.

Engaging extensively with The Yard’s young people and families as part of this research has been very important to both Rocket Science and The Yard Scotland. To do this we have had to use less conventional methods of social research – and we have learnt a few things along the way: We’ve learnt a few things along the way about how to approach impact analysis using less conventional methods:

Co-design with The Yard of all research activities was vital. As consultants, we brought expertise in evaluation disciplines, analytical processes and robustness. However, it’s The Yard that knows its client group inside and out. Bringing together this expertise was vitally important, particularly in designing and delivering the research activities with their young adventurers.

Abandoning the traditional – for the young adventurers we knew we couldn’t use traditional research techniques. Instead we embraced what made The Yard so great – play! We kept it simple– we had two questions we needed answering.


Then we developed a range of play activities that young people could engage with…ever conducted an interview on a go-kart? It’s exhilarating.

Understanding the impact of the service on families was much harder than we expected. Parents and families of these young adventurers are so used to constantly being the advocate for their child. They are some of the most selfless people we have engaged with. For our research – getting parents to think about themselves was difficult. We overcame this in two ways:

We needed to make it clear to parents that this was a space for them to talk about themselves as well as their children. Using colourful post-it notes we put all messages relating to their children on one wall, and messages relating to themselves as individuals on another wall. As expected, the wall of messages about their children filled up fast, while their own wall remained largely empty. We then set them the challenge of filling their wall to be as colourful as the wall about their children. Highlighting their selflessness visually, and colourfully proved to be very effective.

Once again, we embraced The Yard’s motto – fun! We needed to convert outcomes such as friendship and relaxation into monetary values. We chose to use Choice Modelling – which, I promise, is as dull as it sounds if done with no humour. So with fun, laughter and a joke or two we had groups of parents and carers giving us their honest views of what was important to them as individuals as well as their family.

Our time with The Yard has been rewarding, enlightening and a lot of fun. There aren’t many researchers that get to say they got to play with paints, bikes and swings for work! The Yard are now armed with robust evidence of their impact to use with the policy makers and funders. With this information, they intend to influence the design of services and expand their services further across Scotland.

Clare is a Principal Consultant at Rocket Science based in our Edinburgh office.  You can check out her profile here.