Making charities’ research more findable and useful

Quite possibly, some NGO has discovered a great way to, say, prevent re-offending or improve literacy, but that nobody else knows about it so their genius innovation doesn’t spread. Surely this is unacceptable. 

Giving Evidence has been exploring whether this risk could be reduced if research by charities (including ‘monitoring and evaluation’) were easier to find and clearer. We started with a suspicion that (i) some charity research is published but only in places that few people would know to look, such as on a small organisation’s website, and (ii) some of it could be clearer about what the intervention actually was, or what research they did, or what the results were.

We started in UK criminal justice, and consulted many experts, funders checklist 2015 coverand practitioners on two proposals: (i) creating a repository to hold charities’ research, and (ii) creating a little checklist of items for charities’ research to detail: the intervention; the research question; the research method and how it was used (e.g., if 20 people were interviewed, how were those 20 chosen?); the findings are here.

The short-form checklist, suitable for nonprofits in any sector, is here.

The response was very positive. On the checklist, people really welcomed this, and the medics have been using them for years with good success (e.g., CONSORT for reporting clinical trials) and are happy to lend us their expertise. Some great additions to our four items were suggested. On the repository, the consensus was to use open meta-data for tagging research, rather than building a database. Various dogs didn’t bark: nobody said that it had already been done and failed, or that anybody else was already doing it. Full details and results of the ‘consultation’ are here.Report cover

Giving Evidence is now proceeding to pilot both the checklist and the open meta-data. We hope to start the pilot in early 2015. We have an ‘anchor funder’ and are currently talking with other funders.

We suspect that findability and clarity of charities’ research could usefully be improved in many sectors. We happened to start in UK criminal justice, but suspect that the checklist and meta-data ‘solutions’ may be helpful elsewhere too. International development NGOs are already saying that they’d like such a system. We’ll share results from the criminal justice pilot, and are happy to explore these issues in other sectors.

As ever, do get in touch if you are interested.

This project is a side-effect of our work on learning lessons from how medicine uses evidence, which is here.

It’s part of our general theme that: it’s hard to make evidence-based decisions if lots of the evidence is missing, or unfindable, or unclear, or garbage, discussed more here.

This project will enable work to improve the quality of research by NGOs. Why does research quality matter? –>

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One Response to Making charities’ research more findable and useful

  1. Pingback: Interview with Caroline Fiennes about opportunities in effective philanthropy | 80,000 Hours

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