‘What is evidence?’ Georgie Parry-Crooke asked at the start of a ‘Food for Thought’ lunchtime talk in May 2016.
This is not a rhetorical question nor is the answer as obvious. Parry-Crooke asked this question as a student, then in her first evaluation project and again 30 years on (including four as Co-Director of Project Oracle), now as a Principal Researcher/Consultant at the Tavistock Institute. She suggests that defining evidence appears to be ever more complex than thought and perhaps more elusive. ‘What is evidence?’ is a question worth revisiting.
At the core of Project Oracle’s vision is the belief that evaluations of projects and programmes can be validated against a set of Standards of Evidence and that this process will lead to ‘better outcomes for children and young people’ in London. In the current climate of restricted and reduced resources, there are different types of evidence which are often ranked in terms of degrees of ‘objectivity’, validity and reliability. There are those who argue for hierarchies and ‘gold standards’ and thus types of evidence which can be considered more useful and useable. This in turn is based on the perceived robustness of the research methods deployed in measuring outcomes and findings which identify, as far as is possible, ‘what works’.
But what happens to the evaluator’s judgement which is a distinguishing and central feature of this type of research? Is it possible to disentangle and/or facilitate the (re)integration of data-based judgement, reconciling this with judgement which emerges from intuition, sensitivity and nuanced responses to our own and evaluation participants’ lived experience? And does this count as evidence? Reflecting on the Project Oracle journey, Parry-Crooke used this session to offer a space to explore and articulate admissible definitions of evidence.
Georgie Parry-Crooke joined the Tavistock Institute at the beginning of 2016 as a Principal Researcher/Consultant. She has been involved in many and varied projects, with a particular interest in and leading on evaluations of services for women with mental health difficulties including high secure hospitals; new and dedicated medium secure mental health services; community residential services for women leaving secure settings; women in prison and gender awareness training for staff working in women’s prisons and other secure settings. In addition to evaluation practice, teaching and training in evaluation, in 2012, Georgie became Co-Director of Project Oracle and has been closely involved in youth sector policy and practice related to supporting organisations in the demand (funders/commissioners) and supply (providers) of evidence of what works or doesn’t to improve outcomes for children and young people in London.
The talk: What is evidence? Learning from the experience of Project Oracle, children and youth evidence hub was presented as part of the Tavistock Institute’s Food for Thought series.