24 April 2018

Evidence-based Standard for Evaluating Social Practices: an Investment into the Future of Childhood Protection

On April 23, 2018 over 30 representatives from the donor and non-profit community, government agencies, plus experts in the area of childhood protection and research scientists were discussing the first draft of the Evidence-based Standard for Evaluating Social Practices. Round-table participants introduced a number of proposals, shared some of their concerns and expressed their readiness to get involved in the process of improving the Standards.

What practical use can there be from this Standard for the non-profit organizations and other stakeholders? What is needed to make this document into a truly working instrument? How can it become attractive both for the childhood protection specialists and for the donor community? The organizers of the roundtable panel discussion under the title “Evidence-based Standard for Evaluating Social Practices: Topical Issues” presented these questions to the experts. The organizers are as follows: Evaluation of Programs Assessment (an interdisciplinary professional association), Evolution and Philanthropy (an autonomous non-profit organization), and The Timchenko Foundation.

Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova, head of the Social Information Agency and member of The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, opened the roundtable proceedings by welcoming all participants. She noted that The Public Chamber’s Commission for the development of the non-commercial sector and the support of the socially oriented NPOs was in favor of this discussion. The topic of the meeting was a project implemented with the support of The Presidential Grants Foundation, and the moderator said that public discussion of project results is one of the events goals. We are offering this venue to those who delivered results in implementing projects backed by The Presidential Grants Foundation, in order to get a better insight into ways and prospects of developing the non-commercial sector, stressed Yelena Topoleva.

Discussion participants were unanimous in the most important aspect: the Standard, which was presented for the consideration of the expert community, advances the idea of furthering the dialog and the closer cooperation of all those that participate in the development of childhood protection; it also allows to accommodate the interests of both the beneficiaries and the donors, and to take advantage of scientific knowledge more actively. The Standard has inherent value for each of the mentioned participants in the social dialog, thus providing an opportunity for creating a common approach to evaluating the quality and the effectiveness of currently employed practices as well as for defining special indicators and success criteria in the case of innovative practices.

When working with families and children, the principle Do no harm! is paramount, yet risks and results cannot be seen right away, noted Elvira Garifulina, head of Family And Children Program with The Timchenko Foundation. This is why it is important that isolated success cases would not be hastily duplicated while lacking necessary evidentiary basis. The Standard will help the state and the donors identify the advantages and the possibilities of the practices used currently. Families with children will get a better understanding of how useful a certain practice could be for their specific case. This provides a great chance for the researchers and practical workers to make friends and get together because it is still too often that they live in parallel worlds.

Tatiana Podushkina, head of the Evidence-based Social Project Management Center with the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education (MSUPE) and coordinator of the Standard development team, was of the opinion that this Standard can open possibilities for developing a new, more responsible and better-reasoned approach to social project management. It will allow using scientific knowledge, research methods, beneficiaries experience and professional assessment for the purpose of arguing cases. The triple-piece structure for receiving and confirming data, set at the base of the standard methodology, will allow to take into account the values of both beneficiaries and specialists, that is a layer on which analysis was never focused and which, obviously, has a profound impact on the effectiveness of implementing social practices.

Representatives of both non-commercial and state sectors involved in working with families and children endorsed the implementation of the Standard. For example, as Olga Zavodilkina, specialist expert from the Rasprav Kryliya [Spread Your Wings] Charitable Fund for Social Aid to Children, noted, This Standard and the corresponding format for describing social practices will help collect in one place all materials related to the implementation and the evaluation of the practices as well as present them in structured fashion depending on the demands of various target groups. Yelizaveta Romanova, supervisor of the Vera. Nadezhda. Lyubov [Faith. Hope. Love] Center for the Assistance of Family Education, regards the Standard as useful because it makes a special emphasis on involving beneficiaries in active dialog.

The donor community, in the opinion of the experts, will face determined efforts in order to show the advantages of the new instrument. An indisputable plus point of the Standard is its tracking of the values, manifesting itself in its attempt to align the values intrinsic to representatives of various stakeholder groups: donors, commissioners, beneficiaries. Russian non-profit sector started discussing this issue only 3-4 years ago, said Irina Yefremova-Gart, head of IBM Russia/CIS Corporate Citizenship focus area, member of the Donor Forum board, president of ASPPE (Association of Specialists in Program and Policy Evaluation).

The good news is that the Standard is being created at the initiative of the non-profit sector, an initiative which can be discussed in the public realm, as opposed to the corporate environment where everyone is left to own devices reinventing the wheel. It is rather favorable that the Standard is pushing the idea of creating dialog and taking into account interests of the beneficiaries, donors and scientific knowledge, said Igor Sobolev, counselor to Director General of the Presidential Grants Foundation.

Tatiana Burmistrova, chair of the Governing Board of Navstrechu Peremenam [Towards Changes], the Foundation for supporting social initiatives in the realm of childhood, noted: it is very important for the donor community to invest in educating grant receivers, which requires a lot of time and expense. Besides, it should be defined how will the Standard be developed and improved.
During the two-hour discussion experts initiated a number of proposals aimed at refining and finalizing the first draft of the document as well as raised many issues. There were concerns regarding proprietary rights protection of practices developers and Standard applicability for innovative practices; also, specific character of scientific reviews was mentioned and possible general formats for the meeting of the minds between researchers and practitioners discussed. Potential positive outcome resulting from the application of the document was anticipated.

The standard will help discard many practices that outlived their usefulness, thinks Aleksandr Spivak, president of The National Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, member of policy commissions and council boards with the Government of the Russian Federation and of the Russian Ministry of the Education and Science.
Some roundtable participants felt that the Standards would leave the phase of being a draft and expressing good intentions and become a truly working instrument, if they get to be the basis of forming an openly accessible and transparent register of social practices, including the regional level.

The authorities must become interested in creating such registers, thought Tatiana Podkladova, founder and program director of Soglasie [Harmony], an autonomous non-profit organization and resource center from Tomsk. They might provide basis for regional priorities and for the extension of state support. She felt, however, that the basic risk of such approach would be the cessation of support for smaller NPO. Galina Semiya, professor of the psychological anthropology faculty at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, supported her concerns. She noted, among other things, that small and rural NPOs may not have enough knowledge, access to scientific data and energy to be able to use the Evidence-based Standard for Evaluating Social Practices.

The expert team of the interdisciplinary professional association Evaluation of Childhood Programs will summarize and study all opinions and evaluations expressed in The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and during discussions in the regions. This will help finalize the Standard and submit its version 2.0 for the approval by the expert community in the fall of 2018, as part of the project Developing community-focused NPOs: evidence-based evaluation of social practices.

After the approval, any state, public or charitable organization will be able to use the Standards for describing their practices from the standpoint of evidence-based evaluation. Document developers are ready to provide consultancy support and they are convinced that practical implementation of the Standard will help enhance the professional level and the effectiveness of all participants in the area of childhood protection.
Full record of the discussions during the roundtable Evidence-based Standard for Evaluating Social Practices: Topical Issues is available viathis link.

For the record:
The first draft of theStandardwas authored by the expert team of the interdisciplinary professional association Evaluation of Childhood Programs working within the framework of the projectDeveloping community-focused NPOs: evidence-based evaluation of social practices. Evolution and Philanthropy, an autonomous NPO, is implementing this project on behalf of the interdisciplinary professional association Evaluation of Childhood Programs using the grant of the President of the Russian Federation aimed at the development of the civic society (the grant was awarded by The President Grant Foundation). The Timchenko Foundation provided its support for the project.

Roundtable organizers:


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