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Multi-site trials

Supporting grassroots organisations in robust evaluations.

The Youth Endowment Fund was set up with a ten-year mission and a £200m endowment from the Home Office. We’re here to find out what works to prevent children getting involved in violence. One of the ways we’re building this knowledge is by investing in an innovative evaluation approach called multi-site trials.

What is a YEF multi-site trial?

YEF multi-site trials (or ‘aggregated trials’) refers to a form of impact evaluation, where we evaluate a common practice (e.g. mentoring) across multiple locations/organisations.

This approach involves identifying a group of organisations delivering a similar approach, aligning the approaches and evaluations, running small trials at the same time (ideally RCTs), and aggregating the results to find out what works.

We’re testing this method for two main reasons:

1. It supports smaller, grassroots organisations to take part in robust evaluations

Some of the most robust types of evaluation, like randomised control trials (RCTs), only work if there are a lot of children participating in the project. This can make it harder for smaller, grassroots organisations to take part. By evaluating multiple organisations and combining their results, we can learn more about the difference commonly used practices  (like mentoring) make, and identify the consistent elements of delivery that could be more widely adopted if found to be effective (sometimes termed ‘core components’).

2. We want to learn whether multi-site RCTs can work

RCTs are traditionally used to evaluate projects that are very structured. For example, it could involve all young people completing the same activities or attending a specified number of sessions in a given time period. However, we know that a lot of work that happens with young people is very flexible, with support being adapted according to their individual needs.

By looking at whether or not we can still use the data for similar, but not exactly the same practices, multi-site trials could be a useful tool to learn more about flexible approaches in a robust and rigorous way. It will also help us to understand the support smaller organisations need to take part in evaluations and demonstrate the impact they’re having.

Our trials

We’re currently running multi-site trials to test two practices that are commonly delivered by grassroots organisations – hospital navigators and mentoring.

Multi-site trial 1: Hospital navigators

Hospital navigators use the ‘teachable moment’ of hospital attendance for violent injury to engage young people at risk of further involvement in violence. The nature of support offered is tailored to the individual, but typically involves community-based pastoral and social support and signposting towards relevant services. Though the approach has been widely adopted, evidence on hospital-based interventions in the UK is limited.

Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit have commissioned voluntary sector organisations to deliver navigator interventions across five hospitals over 18 months. We’ve commissioned a multi-site trial evaluation to help us find out more about how effectively these programmes prevent children and young people from becoming involved in violence in the future. The evaluation is starting with a feasibility stage which will inform whether we progress to a pilot phase.

Download the study plan:

Multi-site trial 2: Mentoring

Mentoring matches children and young people with mentors who provide guidance and support. The YEF’s Toolkit shows that mentoring is likely to have a moderate impact on reducing violent crime. But there is little high-quality UK evidence, especially on delivery by grassroots organisations.

The YEF funding will initially see around 10 small organisations recruited to take part in a feasibility study of the multi-site RCT. This will inform the roll-out of a subsequent pilot RCT evaluation involving up to 20 small organisations (see list below), delivering mentoring to approximately 1,000 children and young people over the course of a year.

The delivery partners for the multi-site trials of mentoring practice are:

Download the study plans:

How smaller organisations might benefit

It can help to make robust evaluations more accessible to smaller organisations

If we learn that it’s possible to support groups of smaller organisations to successfully take part in RCTs in this way, it could pave the way for further multi-site evaluations – by both the YEF and others – and more robust forms of evaluation for grassroots organisations. This could potentially change the way high-quality evidence is generated and applied in the youth sector.

It can help to identify and understand what works

Evaluating different approaches, such as mentoring or hospital navigators, across multiple locations will help us learn more about its overall impact on preventing violence. It should also allow us to identify practices that are effective, depending on the setting and context.

In framing our learning around commonly used practices, rather than tightly defined programmes, we hope our insights will be more actionable to other organisations and help spread ideas that improve the quality of provision for children and young people.