Part of our role at Mentor over the years has been to work with grassroots organisations that undertake prevention work to understand what is effective in what they do and to help improve the evidence they have for claiming success.
Many, if not most, of these organisations would not see themselves as drug and alcohol prevention services, rather they are intent on providing education and personal development opportunities for children and young people. Nevertheless, someone in the organisation has recognised that drugs and alcohol are issues that need to be addressed, sometimes this is an adult (a manager, a youth worker, a teacher or someone in a governance role) and sometimes it is led by the young people themselves.
In either case our experience has been that there is a desire to approach the subject in ways that are accessible, non-threatening, and with an intent to engage the young people as having important insights into their own motivations and the values that drive decision-making about risk taking.
When we have been working together with these groups – whether through projects such as the Coastal and Ex-Mining Areas project, our CHAMP Awards, or most recently the Street Talk project – Mentor’s role has been to develop our mutual understanding of whether what they are trying is working, to provide some tools for improving the design of projects or interventions, and their capacity to sustain what is valued in the communities that they are embedded in.
A priority for Mentor has been to use the opportunity of working with these often amazing examples of what can be achieved with a few resources and a large dose of enthusiasm and drive, has been to commission external evaluations of the impact that the projects have.
Doing this isn’t without risk for the grassroots organisations we’ve worked with over the years; most obviously if what they appears not to be effective, or if it proves to be difficult to measure the outcomes we are looking for. As a result we are always grateful to those partners that agree to allow us to publish these evaluations, warts and all; to help others learn from their successes and as importantly reflect on when things haven’t gone so well.
Tomorrow we are publishing the evaluations of two projects, Sub 21 and Just for a Laugh that we’ve supported through the CHAMP Awards. Both are located in the North East of England, Sub 21 in North Tyneside, and Just for a Laugh in County Durham.
It is important to recognise the limitations of the evaluations: we did not have the resources to commission evaluations that randomise whether young people received the programmes, nor were we able to follow the impact of the organisations and programmes over long periods.
Nevertheless, I believe that the evaluations tell us interesting things about the organisations and offer useful insights to those wanting to improve their prevention activities with young people.
Both will be available to download from the Mentor website tomorrow.