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I was recently interested to read this blog by Joe Ferns. Joe is a Director at the Big Lottery Fund, which supports a number of SafeLives' projects - including our Insights service. He was reflecting on how the organisation evaluates the impact of the grants it gives. A number of the points Joe made really resonated with the experience we have had at SafeLives over the past few years, as we have tried to capture, aggregate, understand and use more data about the work of the many small specialist domestic abuse services around the country through our Insights service.

Joe talks about having sense of purpose, being clear why you are keeping the data.  We were clear that we wanted the voice and experience of the victim to be captured systematically and then analysed and shared with those who needed to hear it, everyone from the frontline practitioner, the manager of the service, commissioners, funders and policy makers. We aim never to ask for a practitioner to record any data that they would not normally keep for the purposes of good case management. Our Insights dataset has information on over 50,000 adult victims, children and young people collected by about 50 different domestic abuse services. 

And it has been the humble data - the data about who accesses services, where they access them, how long they have to wait before getting help and what their needs are - that have proved to be powerful and actionable.

A few examples…

  • Domestic abuse has a terrible impact on the mental health of both the victim and their children.  But our data showed major variations in levels of disclosure of mental health problems – from under 10% to over 60%.  The obvious question is why. What emerged is that the setting of the service and confidence of the practitioner are key to eliciting a disclosure.  Domestic abuse practitioners based in hospitals saw twice the level of disclosure than their colleagues in community settings.  Local services are using this information to negotiate co-location in A&E or with the local mental health team.  The result?  Big increases in disclosures and a better response for victims.
  • We can see the lack of provision for older women, many of whom live with abuse for over 20 years before they get help. This is a simple message for funders to hear and respond to in their grant making. Other messages about inequality of access that have relevance to funders, commissioners and policy makers are crystal clear in relation to barriers for B&ME victims to the criminal justice system, for working women to refuge provision and for LGBT communities. You can read more about these findings in our latest publication, All Welcome.

None of this is to say that outcome data isn’t important. Of course it is. The joy of the humble stuff – especially when it is aggregated - is that the evidence is solid, the messages self-evident and the resulting action benefits those who we are aiming to support in a way that no charity analysing its work on its own could reasonably do. And crucially, it can often be achieved without a big price tag attached.

We'd like to dedicate this blog to the extraordinary work of the services using Insights across the UK. Your rigour and dedication means we can learn more than ever before about the challenges victims face and the difference your interventions make.

This post was first published on 26 April 2016 on the Big Lottery Fund's blog.