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Focusing on what works, not just on what’s new

5 March 2015

In this blog, Tim Hobbs and Cassandra Ohlson of the Social Research Unit, look at how organisations can successfully replicate the services that work for them.


Cassandra Ohlson

Innovation in public services has long been fashionable. It assumes services could be better and achieve a greater impact — and who could argue with this? The problem is that services with strong evidence to show the difference they make can be overlooked in the search for the latest innovation.

What if we looked for the things that worked, and tried to replicate them instead? This is the aim of Realising Ambition, a £25m Big Lottery Fund programme testing replication as a way of improving outcomes for children and young people.

Our recent Realising Ambition mid-programme report highlights five characteristics that help organisations to successfully replicate.

The first is to have a well defined intervention, with a clear focus on what outcomes it is seeking to achieve, for whom, and how it will do so. A logic model can help communicate this and this kind of clarity really helps in replicating.

Yet these logic models aren’t set in stone; some are still evolving as organisations reflect on their practice and refine what they do. So a second important characteristic is to use evidence to inform this process of improvement and adaptation.

Evidence may take the form of ensuring faithful delivery to the core components of the service, which is the third characteristic of effective replication. This may be supported by the use of eligibility criteria and implementation manuals.

Being really clear about the intervention also helps to get to more accurate start-up and unit cost estimates. This in turn will inform a solid and realistic business plan, the fourth characteristic, so you can replicate again and again.


Tim Hobbs

Lastly, a commitment to learning from delivery requires putting all of these pieces together: knowing what is being replicated, how well it is being delivered and the impact this has on outcomes. This supports organisations to further improve delivery.

One of the most exciting things about replication is that it paves the way for innovation by allowing us to test things that have worked in other places and ask what we might try to do differently to improve a programme.


Tim Hobbs PhD is Head of Analytics and Cassandra Ohlson is a Researcher at The Social Research Unit.

The Realising Ambition programme is led by Catch22 in partnership with the Social Research Unit, Substance and The Young Foundation.


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