Changemakers: supporting local leaders to bridge the gap between evidence & practice

Changemakers: supporting local leaders to bridge the gap between evidence & practice 

Assistant Director of Local Development, Ben Lewing, introduces our new ‘Changemakers’ programme – in partnership with the Youth Endowment Fund – outlining how we will be working to close the stubborn gap between what we know works to support children and families and making this support available on the ground through local evidence leadership.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the role parents play in their children’s lives. Parenting is one of the most important influences on children’s development, particularly in the early years, and is also crucial in terms of children’s behaviour.  

Most parents do an excellent job at supporting their children’s needs, but some struggle for reasons out of their control. These reasons are well known but may include parental mental health problems and conflict between parents – which can reduce parents’ capacity to engage positively with their children – as well as high levels of economic stress, which make it almost impossible for parents to meet their children’s needs.  

Parent management training programmes offer a means to support parents and help address problems with children’s development and/or behaviour before they get worse. This is an area where we know what works, with many well-evidenced parenting interventions available in the UK. However, we’re not seeing these interventions being used to the extent that we would expect, and consequently are not seeing positive impacts at a population level. Fundamentally, there is a gap between what the evidence tells us is effective and what is being commissioned for children and families locally – but what this means in practice is not simple.  

To bridge this gap between evidence and implementation, we have launched Changemakers. In partnership with the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) and four local authority partners – Merton Council, Stockport Council, Wirral Council, and City of York Council – we will work to show the impact of local evidence leadership on evidence use and implementation, as part of their Family Hub approach. This includes funding for specific parenting interventions that have evidence of positive impacts for children. 

Much of the challenge to implementing evidence-based interventions is about funding and the financial pressures facing local public services. However, the extent to which government is prepared to take action at a national level to create the conditions for success at local level is also a factor. 

At the local level there are a number of specific barriers and enablers that affect delivery of evidence-based interventions. Barriers include lack of resources and staff capacity, and evidence-based practice not being embedded in culture or leadership. While enablers include research champions to raise awareness and guide people to the best resources, as well as leadership that promotes evidence-based culture and practice​. 

When we look more closely at the local context and how evidence-based interventions can be implemented, we see two challenges: managing the ‘local evidence system’, which is the complex relationship between interventions, people, organisations, and the wider context; and overcoming specific implementation obstacles to make sure that an intervention fits well in the local context and delivers results.​ 

Through our research we have identified that local evidence leaders, who can provide strong leadership on local evidence use, can be catalysts for change. These local evidence leaders can help navigate between these two challenges to lay the groundwork for evidence use locally and ensure that implementation is done carefully.  

We hope to show through the Changemakers programme, that with investment in local capacity, it is possible to increase the use of effective, evidence-based parenting programmes. We aim to generate learning about how to do this that will be helpful for other local areas. We also want to influence government thinking on the value of supporting local capacity to boost the quality of intervention implementation and evidence use more generally. This is key to national attempts to transform local services through future local area transformation programmes like Family Hubs, and for sustaining delivery of the learning which YEF is generating on reducing youth violence.​ 

​Lessons from recent policy initiatives in this space show that we often have the right ambitions, or try to do the right things, but how we go about achieving these ambitions can be insufficient, or we don’t stay the course. In this area we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we need to focus on delivering proven models.​ 


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