Evidence in the Youth Sector

Developing social and emotional skills in childhood and adolescence is linked to a range of positive life outcomes, and as such, they are high on the priority list for policymakers. The Social and Emotional Skills Review, commissioned by the Early Intervention Foundation, the Cabinet Office and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, represents an extremely important contribution to our understanding about what works to build these important skills.

The University of Ireland Galway report, published as ‘strand 2’ of this Review, presents a vital and comprehensive review of relevant programmes operating in the UK, and the strength of evidence demonstrating which programmes have a positive impact. As part of strand 2, Demos disseminated a Call for Evidence to over 130 organisations in the UK that aim to build social and emotional skills in children and adolescents, with a particular focus on organisations providing social action opportunities.

Based on our Call for Evidence, and Demos’ knowledge of the sector, this short report argues that the UK youth sector is currently undergoing a period of significant development with respect to evaluation. This is being driven by the Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign, Generation Change, and the Cabinet Office’s investment in social action opportunities. The importance of theories of change, standards of evidence frameworks and external evaluation is spreading rapidly in the sector, and there are a number of high quality evaluation studies due to come out this year.

Responding to some of the findings from the Galway report, youth sector organisations should recognise that progression up standards of evidence frameworks should be gradual. In particular, organisations should focus on testing concepts and developing good measurement frameworks, rather than jumping to an RCT before these things are well tested and understood. The sector can continue to improve by ensuring that they are developing theories of change, and that they are using validated survey questionnaires and standardised outcomes for measurement.