No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

Clare Hammond explores the lessons we have learned at Rocket Science about what works when it comes to community engagement.

Government strategies, funders’ focus, and community need is all going in one direction – a growing emphasis on helping those who most need it. These groups come with a myriad of ‘titles’ such as multiple and complex needs, furthest from the labour market, and the hard to reach.

The typical service model goes – people turn up, you support them, they are better off for it. Sounds simple right? Perhaps not. As any staff involved in frontline delivery will tell you, engaging the right groups in the right numbers and in the right ways is extremely difficult. There are a wide range of complex and nuanced drivers for a lack of engagement that services need to navigate.

We recently completed a review of a Scottish Government fund that supported community-based programmes to take a new and more dignified approach to food poverty. We went in looking for evidence about whether the support provided by these projects was helping alleviate hunger, increase nutrition and reduce the stigma and indignity associated with food banks.

What we didn’t expect to find was how much these projects could teach all sectors about engaging people in services and support. The firm community development underpinning to these organisations created a wave of engagement and interest that projects were often struggling to keep up with. Many had even taken the next step and turned this engagement into extra capacity through volunteering and in-kind support, further building their services.

So, what were these projects doing so well? Based on this research and other projects we have worked on recently, we boiled it down to the following.

Their approach to targeting was not to target

Seems counterintuitive right? But projects that didn’t explicitly target the group they were seeking to reach often ended up doing a better job at reaching exactly that group.

Explicit targeting tends to single out and label individuals, usually negatively. Such labels are understandably unappealing and off-putting; driving away a lot of people in most need of support.

I can already hear commissioners and funders screaming – but what about additionally – won’t we end up helping those who didn’t really need it in the first place as well? Broadly, yes. Careful planning for how to do this is important here for this to be remotely sustainable. We suggest considering the following:

  • Will diversity help achieve better outcomes? Providing a space where people meet, who would otherwise not, can have positive repercussions on local community cohesion, and can create mutually beneficial relationships between people from different walks of life.
  • Can a non-targeted service or support act as a gateway into other more targeted support by building trusted relationships increasing the likelihood that those who need it go on to access other services?

     

    Blur the line between the helping and the helped

    This is based on the assets-based approach where everyone has something to offer. In addition, individuals usually want to offer something. No one wants to feel like a ‘charity case’. Too often well-intentioned programmes can alienate those they are trying to help, making them feel indebted to the service, and stripping away any dignity in being given support.

    It is easy for people to feel that there is a clear hierarchy of power within a project, where their role is firmly cemented as the ‘helped’, creating a feeling that they are different than the ‘helpers’. This tends to prevent people from feeling empowered and can entrench issues of negative self-image. Ultimately this makes the likelihood of sustained, long-term change slim.

    Creating more equitable power dynamics and opportunities for participants to help one another, particularly through informal volunteering opportunities, can reduce this feeling, and can even free up the capacity of busy staff. It can also combat mistrust issues that participants may have had previously with figures of authority.

    Enable disengagement and reengagement without fear of consequences

    Life can be unpredictable and chaotic, particularly for people dealing with complex, interconnected issues, such as mental ill-health, homelessness, unemployment and alcohol and drug use. This means that participants may fluctuate in their ability to engage with a service, or how useful that service can be to them. However, disengagement with a service does not mean that engagement up until that point has not been useful, or that they won’t be ready to benefit from it again in the future. The option of reengaging can give people a safety net, and help them to feel that, following a setback, all is not lost. It also enables participants to only be part of a project when they are able to really get something out of it, which may actually produce savings to a project in the long run.

    Provide meaningful activities with skills learning

    A key to effective community engagement is for people to see the value in it. No one wants to be a part of something that they feel is a waste of their time. Any community project needs to think very carefully about the activities and approaches used, and how to label them in a way that makes them appealing to be a part of. Understanding the local context, including the local service landscape and where there are gaps, as well as specific local issues, is an essential part of this. It is important not to make assumptions about what it is people want or need, but to instead ask them what they would like.

    Understand that establishing reputation takes time and investment

    Community engagement does not happen overnight. It is likely to take time and sustained effort to establish trust within a community and is an ongoing process. Even well-established projects are at constant risk of becoming out of touch with communities or suffering from a lack of promotion.

    Clare is an Associate Director in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our community engagement and evaluation work get in touch on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    Cristiana Orlando and Clare Hammond reflect on what makes an outcomes framework work

    A fundamental must do across public and third sector organisations is to be able to understand and evidence the change you are creating. Measuring outcomes is the bread and butter of organisations, and certainly the area of focus of a large portion of our work here at Rocket Science.

    There is a huge range of complexities to bear in mind when measuring your outcomes for example:

    • Making sure you are measuring the right things – as you tend to do what you measure
    • Trying to articulate impact on soft and often intangible changes you are seeing in those you work with
    • Tracking long term impact so that you can report on impacts achieved after your work with an individual or community finishes.

    However, the complexity we want to focus on in today’s blog is around how to coordinate impact measurement. For example, where Scotland-wide reporting is required, but activity and impact is occurring across 32 local organisations or partnerships. Scotland’s (and many other jurisdictions’) answer to this is to have a national outcomes’ framework. There are frameworks for community justice, mental health, alcohol and drug, social care etc – all seeking to build a comprehensive picture of impact at a national scale.

    A framework has to let partners do their own thing but measure impact with consistency

    The purpose of these frameworks is to enable a range of partners to do their own thing, but track progress, change and impact in a way that enables success to be aggregated, and in some situations compared.

    An unused framework is a pointless framework

    For a framework to be useful it has to be consistently applied and applicable for the vast majority of partners. More importantly a framework has to be used to be helpful.

    We are all very good at creating amazing and theoretically perfect frameworks that are:

    • Impossible to lower onto delivery on the ground – if it doesn’t enable local partners to tell a story that makes sense to them it is difficult to use the framework in practice.
    • Not useful to those completing the data – if it isn’t useful to them then why divert already stretched staff time using it?

       

      In our experience of reviewing and developing outcomes framework across the social care, health, employability, community justice, and housing and homelessness we have learned that there are several good practice elements that make a framework work:

      • A good outcomes framework is concise, clear, and consistent in structure and content. Keep outcome titles short but with clear instructions on how to interpret and measure them. Keep the number of outcomes to the minimum needed. Be clear about the aim of the framework, how outcomes link together and be open about the strengths and challenges of the framework
      • Avoid obsolescence through being too vague. There is a tendency to keep outcomes very high level to ensure it is flexible and applicable for partners doing very different things. Being too vague runs the risk that the information becomes meaningless as it tries to be all things to all people
      • Create a framework that is easy to collect data Conducting feasibility testing beforehand, ensuring the framework is co-produced involving all partners, and providing guidance on the use of proxy data are three ways to mitigate the risk of including unfeasible outcomes or indicators.
      • When an outcomes framework is used across localities, it is important to balance national and local priorities. Create a clear link between national objectives and local needs by providing a breakdown of the framework’s aims at both levels. This helps partners have clarity around how they fit into the bigger picture and facilitates the collection of meaningful data locally.
      • Lastly, good frameworks are closely aligned to the way business is done already. The closer the alignment the easier it is to integrate into day to day activities and greater chance of staff buying into its value

      Outcomes frameworks are a powerful tool, but striking the balance between comprehensiveness, consistency and simplicity can be a tricky process.

       

      Clare Hammond is an Associate Director and Cristiana is a consultant in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our outcomes frameworks and evaluation work please get in touch with the Edinburgh Office on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea? Clare Hammond explores when and how to use distance travelled tools

      Distance travelled tools are a popular way of understanding the progression someone has made through a service. They are almost a standard part of any funder or commissioner’s monitoring ask and certainly feature heavily in evaluations and impact measurement.

      But when is using a distance travelled tool a really bad idea?

      The issue is that needs assessment and distance travelled tools can be seen as the same thing by funders, commissioners, service managers and others.

      So, what is the difference?

      • Distance travelled tools are ways of understanding the progress an individual has made. They are particularly useful when assessing the growth in an individual’s knowledge or tracking a single outcome
      • Needs assessment tools are used by practitioners to identify needs and target interventions as part of their case management role.

      Needs assessment tools are a vital part of providing holistic and person-centred support as they allow the practitioner to work through with the participant the various elements of their lives and identify the participant’s worries and needs. They tend to consider a wide variety of aspects of an individual’s life such as health, housing, relationships, employment and addiction.

      It is common for practitioners to use these tools regularly throughout their engagement with a participant in order to understand the changing priorities for support.

      For this reason, it can be easy to see how they could also be used to track an individual’s progression. If housing was scoring as a high area of concern and then after six weeks the concern level is significantly lower, then it could be reasonable to expect that this could be an impact of the programme.

      However, needs assessment tools make terrible measures of distance travelled. They can provide a distorted and confused picture of progression for two main reasons:

      1. Progression is not a linear pathway – particularly for participants with chaotic lives – and can be distorted by how individual’s feel on a particular day. Recovery or improvement is never linear and variations in scores can be misleading when considering overall progress

       

      2. Needs assessment tools can ask individuals how they feel (on a scale) on a wide range of broad issues such as employability, housing, and relationships. Practitioners quite rightly expect to see the figures on the scale to increase and decrease for reasons other than progress or regression. For example:

      • An individual may be focused on managing their addiction, so housing and relationship issues are likely to score low. Once the addiction is better managed, the focus of the individual may turn to their relationships and housing.
      • Initial scores may appear ok when individuals do not yet trust the practitioner they are working with. As the trust and relationship builds between the practitioner and participant, the individual may feel more comfortable expressing unhappiness with parts of their lives.
      • Not knowing what you don’t know can distort initial results. A participant may be happy with their housing situation initially, but as they build their self-esteem they can start to feel they deserve better. Or they can gain a better insight into  their rights when it comes to housing and they can recognise that their housing situation is unhealthy and not good enough.

      In all these situations, it would be reasonable to expect to see scores worsen over time as the individual has the space to think about these areas, the trust in the practitioner to open up about what is concerning them, and the knowledge and self-esteem to know they deserve better.

      There are two key differences between distance travelled tools and needs assessments to consider when working out how to measure impact:

      • Distance travelled tools should be used to test knowledge, understanding and confidence rather than feelings to avoid being distorted by a client’s feelings on a particular day
      • Distance travelled tools need to be focused and specific in what they are asking – broad questions like, ‘How are you feeling about your housing situation?’ should be reserved for needs assessment tools as they are useful questions to open up conversations about need.

      So, when working out how to measure progress – beware!  What can appear to be a distance travelled tool may not provide you want you are looking for.

       

      Until next time, Clare 

      Clare is an Associate Director at Rocket Science who specialises in health and social care with expertise in understanding impact and conducting evaluations. To discuss anything further please get in touch at [email protected] of 0131 226 4949

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists give an insight into their day-to-day work 

      Cristiana Orlando, Research Intern

      Looking back to when I first started as an Research Intern in September 2018, it’s incredible how much I have learned in the span of six short months. I had just graduated from the University of Oxford with an MSc in Comparative Social Policy and I applied to the internship thinking it would be a great opportunity to dip my toes in the worlds of public policy and social justice. I can now say it’s been a lot more than that – from day one I have been working on tasks ranging from interviews with service managers and directors of health boards, to presenting to clients and writing our final reports. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including health and social care, criminal justice, and employability. During my time at Rocket Science, I have not only developed a wide set of skills, but I have also felt valued and that my work was having a genuine impact on both services and people.

      Max Lohnert, Consultant

      Much of what I do now as a Consultant was uncharted territory for me when I joined the Rocket Science team in Edinburgh as Research Intern in October 2017 after completing my MSc in the Psychology of Mental at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, every week has been filled with different activities for a range of projects across different sectors: ranging from doing fieldwork with vulnerable young people on employability programmes, large-scale survey analyses, all the way to conducting workshops with health service providers. Not only have I been supported through training and mentoring to develop a wide range skills, but our culturally flat structure means that there is much room for me bring my own ideas to the table and to develop my own areas of interest.

      Charlotte Wu, Senior Consultant

      I can honestly say that no day at Rocket Science is the same – we are always working on a revolving range of projects for a wide range of clients, which means we’re always getting to learn about new social issues and meet new people! There also isn’t a typical ‘Rocket Scientist’ – we have people from both humanities and sciences backgrounds (my BA was in English and MPhil in Gender Studies) and that variety helps us bring an interesting array of skills, interests and perspectives to any project. The thing that we all have in common is a commitment to supporting social change and fairness, and helping organisations to strengthen and demonstrate their impact.

      I also appreciate that while it’s a busy and fast-paced working environment, Rocket Science is encouraging of us pursuing development (both professionally and outside the company) and work-life balance. I actually started at the organisation back in 2013 as a Consultant and decided I wanted to go back to studying, so went away and did a PhD in Global Health Humanities, freelancing for Rocket Science part-time, and then joined again full time in November 2018 as a Senior Consultant. The different ways that I’ve worked for Rocket Science over the years, which have changed with my own circumstances, is an example of the willingness to be flexible around individual staff members’ needs that I really appreciate and value.

       

      See for more information about the open positions in Edinburgh or contact Clare Hammond for an informal chat on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected].

      Building financial resilience in young people and families

      Building financial resilience in young people and families

      Rocket Science held an event on how to build finanical resilience in young people in May, find out more about the discussions, learning and access event notes and presentations.

       

      Building financial resilience in people of all ages is critical to help them manage their working lives now and in the future.  Traditionally much of the support provided to help people manage their money and debt has been as a one off intervention, usually at a point of crisis.  However if people are to survive the challenges of managing their income when they are in insecure or low paid employment they are really going to need to have good financial education.

      Last year Rocket Science was commissioned by four charities; Centrepoint, National Skills Academy for Financial Services, Quaker Social Action and Shelter Scotland to conduct an evaluation of their financial capability projects funded through the Money Advice Service What Works Fund.

      The projects were testing new ideas and approaches to building financial capability, two of which focused on building the skills and offer for vulnerable young people and those facing transition.  One is working with families through coaching and training to develop a family approach to money management and the other has supported health care professionals in their work with people facing a combination of health and money challenges.

      The event brought the learning from the evaluations, published this month, to a non-financial capability audience, including funders, commissioners and organisations working with people to improve their employment, education and life chances.

      Discussions revealed that people still find talking about money or thinking ahead really hard to do.  Some of this is down to a lack of education, learnt behaviours (from parents) and in many cases being in a place where considerations about money management are just not a priority.

       

      This means that people will only ask for help when they are in crisis.  Many services are designed and funded to provide one-off support, rather than as part of an on-going offer.  Often services also tend to resolve issues for people rather than giving them the skills and confidence to do it themselves.

      These projects have looked at ways in which you can build better attitudes towards money management and in turn create behavioural change.

      A key learning point has been the need to have an on-going trusted relationship with an advisor and recognition that people often face multiple transitions, meaning that good intentions can be derailed by life events and impact on mental health.

      The main take away point for me, was that financial education needs to be recognised as a key life skill.  Importantly, we need to ensure that this becomes integral to the support we provide people of all ages to manage their personal and working lives.

      The notes from the event can be found here Financing and planning for an uncertain future event note May 2018, alongside the  Presentation slides and details of the organisations who presented Information and contact details.

      If you would like to find out more about our work in this area, please get in touch.

      Caroline

      [email protected]

       

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

      Insight from our Rocket Scientists – Working with Young People

      Insight from our Rocket Scientists – Working with Young People

      This week we ask some of our Rocket Scientists What is important for services that support young people?

      Over the last year, we have evaluated a range of programmes supporting young people. Our clients include the Wise Group, Venture Trust, Scottish Waterways Trust, Princes Trust, and Centrepoint. This work has given us the opportunity to refresh our insights into what works when helping young people to improve their education, employability and financial resilience.

      Using this insight we have asked our Rocket Scientists to share lessons they have learned about what works for young people.

      Dina Papamichael, Assistant Consultant

      For me, it is crucial to understand the intersecting issues which young people can face. For young people, issues around health and employment are so closely linked with self-confidence, social inclusion, substance misuse, homelessness and mental health. The most successful interventions enable a young person to overcome multiple challenges on the road to the programme’s primary objective. A programme which helps young people gain a qualification while developing a social network can have the impact of boosting self-confidence, developing work-related skills and increasing the level of stability in a young person’s life, while health services that focus on the social drivers of the sexual and mental health of its young people can obtain better and more enduring health outcomes.

      Richard Scothorne, Director

      The transition to work is a very tough one for many young people. Some have never really succeeded at anything at school and have often lacked the stable support of parents or other carers.  The most effective programmes we have worked with have provided different kinds of support – in other words, support that young people can chose from in terms of the quality of the relationship and their different needs from time to time.  These sources include trainers, mentors and personal coaches – someone who can provide the young person with a fixed point in a shifting world – and who will listen to them and stay with them through their journey.  In addition, working on shared tasks in small, well-managed groups – often in quite demanding conditions – can provide invaluable peer support, show people they are still appreciated even when they may be struggling, and help to build a young person’s confidence in dealing with others.

      Natalie Dewison, Senior Consultant

      Traditionally, the effectiveness of employability services has been assessed by looking at the number of people moving on to ‘positive destinations’ (education, employment, training or volunteering). For employability projects supporting young people facing multiple barriers to work, particularly those that only run over the course of a few weeks, this approach fails to capture the full impact of support provision.

      We have found that often the most valuable outcomes are increasingly recognisable over time. Improvements in a young person’s confidence and outlook for example, which make them more resilient to knock backs and motivated by new long-term goals and ambitions. These things have the potential to greatly improve future job prospects. We are currently supporting three organisations delivering employability projects to evidence the sustainability of these outcomes. This means developing methods of longer term data collection that are simple, effective and enjoyable for the young people involved.

       

      Max Lohnert, Assistant Consultant

      Vulnerable young people often come from unstable backgrounds and face a range of intersecting barriers to entering employment. Considering this, our experience shows that there is no “quick fix” and that vulnerable young people benefit most from sustained engagement with employability programmes. For example, young people often benefit immensely from the trusted relationships with trainers and mentors and from the peer network they establish – and such relationships take time to build. However, since funding arrangements often require organisations to prioritise the number of young people being helped over the length of time they can engage with a single person, organisations have found other means to engage young people for longer periods of time: ranging from trainers or mentors staying in touch with a young person informally after the official completion of the programme, to building linkages and strong referral networks with other organisations along the employability pipeline.

      Clare Hammond, Associate Director

      The job market is becoming more complex and more competitive. Teaching young people to navigate this complexity is so important. This includes helping them look beyond the well-known and more obvious opportunities. How many jobs did you know existed when you were in high school? Doctor, teacher, engineer, nurse and banker? Probably. How about business analyst, GP practice managers, food safety consultant, project manager? Probably not.

      The role that employers can play in helping young people understand the lay of the land is well evidenced. However, engagement between schools and employers often focuses around larger private sector employers. These large businesses make up a small part of employment in the UK. Most people will work for small or medium sized private firms, or the public sector. Where schools partner with small and medium sized businesses and the public sector young people are able to have a fuller understanding of the labour market.

      Eleanor Sanders White, Consultant

      There are many assumptions out there about young people which can interfere with our ability to reach and support them. Sometimes, the only thing in common in a group of young people is their age – we need to be careful about treating them as a homogenous group. A lack of confidence or fear of failure can often be misinterpreted as apathy. While some young people want to engage online, others need to develop a trusting relationship to engage. Many young people are technologically savvy, but some won’t have the digital skills required to engage online. While some young people will need a tailored and very supportive experience, others will interpret this as patronising. The way through this? Some of the most successful examples we have seen go straight to the source and ask the young people, others have shown a huge flexibility in how they engage with the young person to tailor for the individual walking through the door.

       

      For more information on our work with young people get in touch with Clare Hammond, one of our Associate Directors [email protected] or 0131 226 4949