In ‘DEMO’ mode: Diagnosing the Evidence-Minded Children’s Social Care Organisation

Isabel Vanderheeren and Greg Wilkinson
Research Centre Manager

09 November 2018

A guiding principle for the work of the WWC is that it is not enough for us to generate and share good evidence: we also want to support the sector to bring about evidence-informed change. To help the Centre work effectively in providing that support, we committed to working with a group of Pioneer Partner Authorities earlier this year on the development and testing of a series of prototype products and services aimed at building authorities’ capability, motivation and opportunity to create and use evidence.

One of these products is a tool for diagnosing the extent to which an authority possesses and deploys the characteristics of an evidence-minded children’s social care organisation. From talking to a wide range of leaders and practitioners within the sector and from a review of materials published by management and organisational theorists, we have developed a framework with three sets of features (around the exercising of evidential capability, the use of management systems and processes, and the application of evidence in direct practice) and three sets of enablers (around leadership, culture, and skills): an organisation possessing and using our lists of characteristics under all six of these headings could be said to be evidence-minded. This state of evidence-mindedness is not an end in itself, but a as means to the end of improved practice – and, ultimately, to the achievement of better outcomes for children and families.

Walsall MBC kindly agreed to be the first authority to help the Centre shape this framework into a prototype diagnostic tool – and to see whether its application through a series of interviews, focus groups, meeting observations and reviews of plans and processes could generate insights that were accurate, of substance, and helpful as a means of teeing up action that would move the authority towards improvements in practice. ‘Project Walsall’ began with the Centre presenting to an all-day whole-directorate conference (attended by over 400 staff) on Walsall’s Right for Children Change Programme and proceeded through a programme of visits, interviews and whole staff survey before culminating in a presentation of our findings and recommendations to the Directorate Management Team.

The Director of Walsall Children’s Services said “In Walsall we found the process really helpful – not necessarily because it told us things we didn’t already know, but because it provided a powerful focus on priority areas for improvement, with crunchy recommendations provided within a very structured framework. This is helping us to plan and drive forward the next phase of our Right for Children transformation journey and ensuring that it is shaped by evidence which in turn will ensure we are delivering better outcomes for children and their families.
The process has also helped build a close working relationship between the Centre and the authority, which both sides are keen to develop further as we explore ways of combining a range of activities and services that will help with the next stage of the path to evidence-mindedness.

If your authority is interested in finding out more about this diagnostic and how it might be applied to assess your current position and generate options for future development, please contact either of us – Isabel has joined the WWC reference group overseeing the application of the diagnostic work in subsequent authorities, and Greg will continue to lead on the initiative until the arrival of Michael Sanders as the Centre’s executive director in January 2019.