The publication of the long-awaited - and damning - Troubled Families evaluation report has created lots of interest in the media today. It is not often that evaluations generate such public interest, so this is something largely to be celebrated.
However, it is noticeable that online reporting has been a little simplistic, in way that is important for the evaluation sector to pay attention to. Many headlines (in the Independent, and the Guardian for example), have been along the lines of 'Troubled Families has had little impact'. Is that really true? I would have thought that a £1bn investment would have had an enormous impact, in terms of the creation of new resources, new relationships, new activities, even new jobs and a reinvigorated stream of work for local authorities. A lot of change will have happened as a result of this large programme existing, regardless of whether that change is good or not.
It is probably safe to assume that the media headlines should have reported that the programme had little positive impact, on the desired outcomes. However, a failure to achieve desired outcomes is very different from having no impact at all, and indeed using an evaluation to understand what that unexpected or unintended impact was is a good way of expanding our knowledge of how to better design and deliver interventions in future.
It also highlights that the 'success' or 'failure' of a programme is usually defined by the people setting the targets and investing the resources, rather than the people who actually stand to benefit from the initiative - who may have a very different perspective on what is valuable to them. I look forward to reading the report, and seeing the extent to which it takes into account the priorities and perspectives of the 'troubled families' for whose benefit this scheme was set up.
A scheme to help ‘troubled families’ championed by former Prime Minister David Cameron has had "no significant impact", according to a leading think-tank. Mr Cameron had hailed the £448 million initiative to tackle addiction, absence from school and anti-social behaviour among families as a "real government success", but the research found no consistent evidence it improved lives.