Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

Since taking the reins at ERSA in 2010, I have been struck by the wealth of information and evidence that exists within ERSA members, but also astonished by the extent to which this has not been coherently mined for public good.

Too often I hear commissioners and funders say they don’t know what works when considering where to invest. The consequence of this lack of evidence can be a frustrating array of small pilots all designed to ‘test and learn’, but often covering familiar ground.  Results are then often not made public and any learning gathered quickly fades from sight, consigned to the dustbins of history.

It has taken some time, but we now hope to begin to rectify this chasm in knowledge.

Today, we are proud to unveil the ERSA Evidence Hub. This brings together over 400 individual pieces of research on employment support and related issues. The Hub is the result of a year of extensive information gathering, drawing on UK and international research and bringing together the evidence and work of academics, think tanks and provider case studies. It is also a work in progress, which ERSA will continue to coordinate as more and more evidence becomes available.

Although much of this has always been publicly available, it has been dispersed and often difficult to track down. The Evidence Hub– which sorts the evidence into thirteen topic areas - will allow ERSA members to access the information to make a more robust case for what works. Non-members (we know there are still some of you out there !) will also have access to parts of the library, reflecting our belief that good data is a public good.

The second prong of our better data ambition has taken the form of a partnership with New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) to establish an Employment Data Lab. Based on NPC’s work to deliver a Justice Data Lab, in partnership with the Ministry for Justice which provides a mechanism to compare like-for-like interventions to identify which initiatives produce better outcomes in reducing reoffending, the Employment Data Lab aims to do the same to compare what works in employment support.

The Employment Data Lab has proved challenging.  In particular, we have had to prove that it is possible to profile data in a way which means we can compare apples with apples rather than apples with hedgehogs.  Initial work between ERSA, NPC and the Department for Work and Pensions has, however, been positive and we are now undertaking a second proof of concept stage of activity. We would welcome conversations with organisations interested in supporting and getting involved with this work.

We are aware though that the Evidence Hub and Data Lab will only fill part of the information vacuum.  In particular, collectively, we must therefore push for a government-funded What Works Centre as exists in other areas.  The fact that this important area of social policy has not been gifted a What Works Centre is a clear oversight and one that should be challenged.

As those who have been in the sector long enough will testify, at the heart of almost every new initiative lays the nucleus of an old idea from a previous cycle. Or, more likely still, a provider will have already tried it. Evidence and data provides the key to designing and delivering powerful interventions, and knowing what’s been tried, what works and what doesn’t is at the heart of this. The Evidence Hub launched today will provide a crucial step in the right direction.

Here is a link to the evidence hub: 

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

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