EIF Evaluation Hub

Evaluating the impact of early intervention is an essential part of what it means to provide effective services for children and families.

Evaluation is the process of examining programmes (or interventions), services and practice to determine their value, merit and worth. It ensures that the services you are providing are effective at preventing poor outcomes, supporting children’s development, and achieving the benefits that they are designed to provide. It also provides vital information for improved decision-making and more effective services in the future.

How to use the EIF evaluation hub

Understanding and measuring the impact of your intervention is a journey. This hub is structured around the key steps in this journey, which begins with the development of a theory of change and moves towards measuring impact. Each page of the hub provides a range of resources relating to a particular step or steps on the journey.

  • Step 1: Creating a theory of change
  • Steps 2 & 3: Developing logic models & blueprints
  • Step 4: Conducting an implementation & process study
  • Step 5: Conducting a pilot impact study
  • Step 6+: Measuring impact and beyond

Follow the links at the top or bottom of each page to move through from one step to the next.

Why evaluation matters

Impact evaluations are different to other kinds of evidence because they can confirm causal links between services and outcomes: did the service cause a family’s outcomes to improve? While other forms of evidence – such as user testimony, professional judgment or monitoring data – are all important, they do not in themselves prove impact. Rigorous impact evaluation is the only means of determining which forms of support have been effective at improving child outcomes.

Impact evaluation provides invaluable information for future decisions about early intervention policy, funding and service design. Essentially, evaluation of what you are doing today provides vital information for improved decision-making and more effective services in the future. Taking evidence-based decisions, informed by evaluation, reduces the risk of wasting money on services that will not improve the intended outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

We know that not all early intervention is created equal. While there are interventions that have been evaluated to show improvements to children’s outcomes, others are evaluated and shown to have no effect. And there is another, much wider set of activities that have not yet been evaluated, which means that little is known about their impact. Within this latter category of early intervention, the lack of robust evaluation means we cannot be sure what difference interventions or services are making for families. Without robust evaluation, commissioners and service managers may be working in the dark, and time and resources may be being wasted in repeatedly innovating from the ground up, rather than testing, learning and building on previous initiatives.

Ultimately, the lack of data on impact makes it more difficult to make the case for further investment in early help and early intervention. This is not a good place to be. Locally, as authorities try to find savings, there is a real danger that early help services are cut, not because they don’t work, but because they have not been evaluated, and so there is no evidence to show that they do work and should be retained.

Developing evidence of impact takes time, commitment and capacity

It is vital to evaluate your intervention or service to ensure that what you are delivering is effective. However, impact evaluation cannot happen overnight: there is a journey any intervention or service must go on before generating evidence of impact, starting with clearly defining why it will improve outcomes for children, moving through to understanding whether it can work within your local context. You need to build in evaluation from the outset, which requires capacity and capability for evaluation among those who are delivering early intervention at the local level. This is a difficult commitment to make, but one that is vital to ensure your vulnerable children and families are receiving the right support.

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