The recent Ending Youth Violence Lab launch event (4th April) was a significant milestone for us. It was our first major opportunity to engage with stakeholders across the sector, and to set out what we are seeking to achieve and how we will work. The launch was the culmination of a journey, from an initial idea, to founding the Lab, through to sharing our strategy and initial projects with the world.
I recently joined the Lab as Assistant Director, which gave me a particular perspective on the event and what it needed to achieve in terms of raising awareness about the Lab and our mission. Hopefully our name gives a pretty clear indication of the idea behind the Lab – but what is a Lab exactly, and what will it actually do to end youth violence? And how is the Lab different from others trying to tackle youth violence? These are important questions, and I was looking forward to the launch event answering them, and demonstrating a move from vision to action.
What is the Lab, and how will it work?
Our first speaker was Tom McBride, Director of the Lab, who talked us through how the Lab will operate and what it is seeking to achieve:
- The Lab will do 3 things to deliver on our mission to catalyse a step change in understanding and tackling violence. Firstly, we identify promising projects which seek to address youth violence. Secondly, we fund the development and delivery of those projects. Thirdly, we conduct research to assess how delivery has gone, ways to make it even better, and the potential for further evaluation. Our focus is on early-stage testing (more on this later), an area where we think there is insufficient investment – so we will only fund delivery which is connected to this. Our aim is that our work will support interventions to be ready for robust evaluation by funders such as the Youth Endowment Fund to determine their impact on the lives of children and young people.
- The Lab is at the centre of a Russian doll of organisations. The Lab sits within the Behavioural Insights Team (which itself is owned by the innovation agency Nesta). However, while the Lab benefits from the infrastructure and expertise of these two organisations, it has its own vision, mission, funding and governance. For more information please see here.
- The Lab is small (but perfectly formed). Currently, the Lab has 2 full-time members of staff, but is able to draw upon expertise in design, delivery and evaluation from across BIT and Nesta. For more information on our team, please see here.
OK, but can you give us a bit more detail about what the Lab will actually be doing?
The purpose of the event was, in part, to move beyond sharing the ideas behind the Lab, and to showcase our first projects. I know the amount of work it took for the team and our partners to get to this point, and it was great to be able to share this with the world.
The first project announced was GenPMTO. Dr. Abigail Gewirtz (from the programme developer, Implementation Sciences International) and Jon Brown (Barnardo’s, the delivery partner for this project) told us about the intervention and the work the Lab will do to adapt and evaluate it in the UK.
Dr Abigail Gewirtz of Implementation Sciences International
GenPMTO works with groups of parents to support them with their approach to parenting, and is delivered to families of children where there is a risk of developing behavioural problems. The programme has good evidence from the US and Europe of improving a range of important outcomes such as young people’s behaviour, mental health, and reducing arrests many years after it’s been delivered. The strength of the evidence on improving outcomes which are strongly associated with youth violence is one of the reasons we are so excited to bring the intervention to the UK for the first time. Below is a summary of the programme and the work we do to understand its potential to help tackle youth violence here in the UK.
Summary of GenPMTO project
The second project announced was Face It, a programme that was developed in the UK by Khulisa. It involves therapeutically trained facilitators working in schools with young people (at risk of offending, exploitation and exclusion) using creative techniques such as storytelling and art. Jodie Wickers, CEO at Khulisa, talked us through the programme and the Lab’s research plans.
Jodie Wickers, CEO of Khulisa, speaking about the Face it programme
Khulisa are committed to evaluation, and one of the key aims of the Lab is to work with home-grown services to support them in building their evidence. We’re excited to get started.
Summary of Face It project
And how is the Lab different from others in the sector?
There are a lot of organisations focused on youth crime and violence, and several that specialise in research. Jon Yates (Executive Director of the Youth Endowment Fund), and Stuart Roden (founding investor in the Lab, who has worked with Unlocking Potential, The Beckmead Trust and the Centre for Social Justice) – helped set out the Lab’s unique position:
Stuart Roden, Lab funder, talking about the origins and ambitions of the Lab, and the progress made over the last year
- Focus on early-stage testing and development. We work with, and are part funded, by the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF). YEF’s work involves funding the delivery and evaluation of youth violence interventions (by evaluation, we mean testing to see if the service actually has an effect on things like young people’s behaviour and offending) and mobilising the knowledge from those evaluations to make change happen.
Jon Yates, Executive Director at YEF, sharing his view on the importance of good evaluation
Instead of focusing on testing if services are effective, the Lab will work with services before organisations like YEF evaluate them. Before you test effectiveness in large scale evaluation, it’s important to make sure it’s possible to deliver the service well (and to enough people), and that it’s possible to collect the right data (we call this early stage testing). The Lab focuses on answering these questions and supporting the development of services.
This was one of the main reasons I wanted to be involved with the Lab. In my previous role at the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), we provided independent guidance on the effectiveness of programmes by examining the rigour of existing evaluation evidence (and publishing our findings on EIF’s Guidebook). I frequently saw how research on what works could be better and give more conclusive results if early-stage testing had taken place before the big trial. The importance of early-stage testing is highlighted in EIF’s 10 steps to evaluation framework, which guides the Lab’s approach.
From our strategy – EIF’s 10 steps evaluation framework and the focus on early stages
- Focus on non-programmatic approaches and structural challenges. We will look at the bigger picture, innovate, and try new things. This is part of the reason why I’m so excited to be a part of this team. Policy research can get a bit stuck on programmes that focus on the behaviours of young people. As valuable as they are, there’s a risk of missing out on other ways of intervening effectively, and not focusing sufficiently on root causes and the structural/economic factors which underpin the issues we want to fix.
From our strategy – Longer-term aspirations
- Focus on young people’s, parents’ and practitioner’s perspectives. Hearing from members of YEF’s Youth Advisory Board about how violence has impacted their lives and those of their peers and communities was one of the most powerful parts of the event. This is the kind of contribution that reminds me why I got involved in this work in the first place. It also highlights the importance of listening to young people’s perspectives in our research. One panel member put it best: ”The numbers will say a lot, but without hearing from young people you only have half the story”. This is how the Lab will work. To know if delivery and evaluation are feasible, we need to know how people are responding to and engaging with our interventions. We need to talk to people to figure out what the numbers really mean, and to figure out why they might be positive, disappointing, surprising, or confusing.
Members of YEF’s Youth Advisory Board – Carlin, Georgia and Lily – sharing their stories and perspectives
In our view the event was a great success, thanks to our excellent speakers and attendees (including policymakers, practitioners, and researchers from across the country). There was a real buzz and the feedback since has been overwhelmingly positive.
I left feeling inspired, proud of what the Lab has achieved so far (for which I can take only a little credit), and glad I am involved in this important work. I was also left feeling a bit daunted – ‘Ending youth violence’ is a bold name, after all. Having arrived, I can’t wait to push forward with turning these words, plans, and presentations into action.
To find out more, please read the Lab’s strategy here.