The last decades have seen many improvements in the health and well-being of children. But there is more to do if the ‘third sector’ (charities and the voluntary sector) is going to play its full part in continuing the drive to improve children’s well-being. Part of this means sharpening our thinking about outcomes, rather than processes or activities. This talk starts with some examples from classic studies to show why the voluntary sector can’t be sure that well-meaning projects that people like are actually delivering positive outcomes. It then goes on to ask what we can do to use evidence better to use voluntary sector funds and activities to make a real difference to child health and well-being, given a world where the state of our knowledge is imperfect and where it often seems easier to look at the outcomes of small-scale, targeted interventions than more thorough-going reforms (requiring institutional change). But this is not a counsel of despair: instead, there are examples where the voluntary sector and third sector funders are now more actively engaged in the messy but ultimately rewarding business of using a focus on outcomes and evidence, not only to improve practice, and concentrate on activities that bring about positive change, but to consider whether more universal institutional change is needed.
Sharon Witherspoon has been Director of the Nuffield Foundation since July 2012.
She previously held the position of Deputy Director, and has led the Foundation's social policy research programmes since her appointment in 1996.
Sharon is a member of the Strategic Forum for the Social Sciences and several other strategic bodies supporting excellence in social science research. She was awarded an honorary MBE for services to social science in 2008 and the British Academy President's Medal in 2011.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Sharon was a senior researcher at the Policy Studies Institute and NatCen Social Research, where she was responsible for the design and statistical analysis of large scale representative studies of public behaviour, family life and the regulation of professions. She was one of the original researchers for the British Social Attitudes Survey series.