Why evidence matters

Exploring the role of evidence in work with young people

Understanding and engaging with evidence, and its role in improving outcomes for young people, is critically important for everyone involved in funding, commissioning, designing, delivering and evaluation youth work and services for young people. 

WHAT IS EVIDENCE?

Evidence is often thought of as being about 'proof' or 'facts'. We think of evidence as information that helps us prove or demonstrate truth - or disprove something that is false.

But evidence means different things to different people. Evidence is information in support of an assertion. That information can be strong or weak. We want that information to be as strong as possible. 

Evidence can come in many different forms; we are surrounded by it every day. Different levels of value are attached to different forms of evidence - we must recognise that the debate about evidence is not value-free. The Centre for Youth Impact uses Project Oracle’s Standards of Evidence, an acknowledged and recognised set of standards to help you strengthen your evidence over time.

There are many different types of evidence, from stories and testimony, to data from surveys or scientific trials. We often get drawn into an unhelpful debate about stories versus numbers, rather than taking a broader view of evidence. It is important to consider the audience for your evidence, and what you intend to use it for. 

Evidence is not proof; it is about building up a picture that helps us tell the strongest story possible.

WHY IS EVIDENCE IMPORTANT?

Evidence is about accountability. Evidence helps us to be accountable to the young people we work with, to funders or commissioners, and to ourselves.

Evidence also allows us to test, learn and improve. Without evidence, there is a risk that we are feeling our way, without direction. Evidence helps us to make sense of what we do, and to help others make sense of it too. 

HOW SHOULD EVIDENCE BE USED?

Evidence is not just about impact. Evidence should be gathered and used in the design, delivery and evaluation of projects and services for young people. It should be a fundamental part of the decision-making by funders and commissioners.

Evidence should be a living, breathing part of your organisation and the way you work with young people.

Here are some important principles about using evidence:

  • Evidence is confidence, not proof or truth
  • Evidence is meaning, providing a deeper understanding and insight
  • Evidence is improvement, giving opportunities for reflection and direction.
  • Evidence is for anyone, from you and your team, to young people and commissioners, evidence has meaning to all of us.

FURTHER RESOURCES

If you are interested in learning more about evidence, Sense About Science has produced a website campaigning for diversity in evidence. Ask For Evidence provides an excellent overview of different types of evidence.