Evidence on trial: Why doesn’t evidence always lead to change?

If you’re like me, you love evidence. The challenge is knowing how to turn evidence into action that has a real-life positive impact on the world around you. During my experiences delivering change in social care, I’ve seen local authorities develop excellent insight but often struggle to ask the right questions of it, or review it regularly enough to drive improvement.

Evidence-based change was discussed frequently throughout the 2019 National Children’s and Adult Services Conference. Faced with an overwhelming choice of options, models and opportunities to innovate and improve, social care leaders need to rely on evidence to inform their future direction.

Developing a strong evidence base to inform decisions is a sure-fire way of building a consensus – my question is: how is your organisation building a habit of regularly reviewing evidence, to drive action and improvement?

This is often difficult, firstly, because making your local evidence base visible can be time consuming, and it takes rigour to know how to ensure the evidence reliable. Handled in the wrong way, evidence can just be a page of numbers, or a giant unwieldy data set that no one has the time or inclination to tackle. But when done properly, can provide the robust and realistic insight that you need to act. It provides the antidote to the current prevalence of hypothesis-led change and expert fatigue – hypotheses that don’t fix your local problems or work at scale, often working against local concerns and advice.

Shifting your approach to evidence

The key to driving value from evidence is increasing the frequency of reviewing your evidence to challenge and inform decisions more regularly, instead of the more typical one-off assessment before launching an 18-month change programme.

Evidence only becomes a pivotal tool of change when it is converted into insight. And not just interesting insight, but actionable insight – information that you can use to help you to do something different; to make a difference. You need to ask yourself ‘so what?’ to what it’s telling you frequently, in order to drive your actions.

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What can evidence do for me?

Let’s take a case in point: I’ve used local authority systems data to identify that variation in practice and decision-making leads to 1/3 of people known to services not achieving their ideal outcome. This was identified using information that existed within the local authority, but had not been presented, scrutinised or challenged in the right way.

Organisations with a habit of regularly reviewing all the evidence, with the right people, to gather the insight to drive action are much better placed to avoid scenarios such as this. Ask yourself:

  • How does evidence inform the decisions that are made within your organisation?

  • Who would you need to make decisions based on that evidence, and how regularly are you in a room together to do so?

If it’s difficult to answer these, it’s likely that your organisation is not getting value out of its own evidence and data.

At Glenesk, we’ve applied evidence to develop insight around team culture, organisational training, leadership and processes, and scrutinised the drivers of these to produce actions that improve outcomes for service users. We believe that when you ask the right questions of the evidence to gain valuable insight, then apply the levers of change to drive meaningful action, you can make evidence work for them, and not the other way around.

How can you get more value out of evidence?

  • Make data and evidence visible to identify the graphs that demonstrate you are doing the right thing in the right way

  • Ask “so what?” to turn that evidence into insight – if you need more information, seek it out

  • Act on it

  • Repeat – keep doing this regularly and turn this into a habit

  • This article was written by Tom Wheeler