Are we making a difference?

Ruth Puttick, Chance UK Trustee, June 2015
All charities like to think that they positively enhance the lives they set out to serve. But too often when we hear the word ‘charity’, we assume that by its very nature it must be doing good work. This is where Chance UK is different. It doesn’t just assume it is having a positive impact, but instead it is scientifically testing and evaluating to know for certain.


If you look the word ‘charity’ up in the Oxford English Dictionary you will find the following definition: “An organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need”.

But how can we tell if the charity is providing help and raising money to have a positive impact on those it is setting out to serve? How can we ensure it is benefitting its so-called beneficiaries rather than actually harming those it’s trying to help?

Now you might think that all charities are doing good work. I’m sure that a lot are. But good intentions don’t necessarily lead to good outcomes. This is why it is so important to really test the work of charities.

Chance UK is a real exemplar in the charity sector, investing time, energy, and reputation in undertaking robust evaluations. If a charity of Chance UK’s size and scope undertaking complex interventions can continually measure its impact, then there is no excuse for others not to be doing the same.

Since its inception, Chance UK has been using the tried-and-tested behaviour measurement tool called the Goodman Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for evaluation purposes. The SDQ is a behavioural screening tool designed to assess children’s positive and negative attributes across five scales: emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, conduct problems, peer problems and pro-social behaviour. The assessment acts as an indicator of the children most likely to go on to criminal and antisocial behaviour.

In 2008, academics from Goldsmiths, University of London, carried out an in-depth piece of research into Chance UK mentoring; this developed and supported in-house findings. Academics looked at the SDQ scores of 100 children after their year of mentoring with Chance UK and found that:
• 98% of the children achieved a reduction in SDQ scores
• 51% ended the year on an SDQ score under 16

These results on their own are impressive, but Chance UK didn’t stop there.

In 2012, the Big Lottery Fund named Chance UK as one of 25 ‘outstanding’ projects that received funding to replicate their programme in Enfield and Waltham Forest, through the Lottery’s Realising Ambition programme. The money also came with a lot of support from The Social Research Unit, Young Foundation and Substance to develop and expand their work. A year later, the Lottery selected Chance UK as one of three organisations in the Realising Ambition portfolio to receive funding for a randomised controlled trial (RCT). In an RCT, participants are divided into two groups. One group receives an intervention, in this case the Chance UK mentoring programme, while the other, the control group, does not. At the end of the trial, results for the two groups are compared to see if there is any statistically significant difference between them.

Findings from the evaluation will appear in 2017 and will be the most detailed evaluation of the charity’s mentoring programme and outcomes so far. It may also highlight changes that could be made to improve the programme.

RCT’s are considered the ‘gold standard’ in evaluation design. Although common in medicine, they are not often used in social programmes in the UK, particularly mentoring interventions, and it’s almost unheard of for a charity of Chance UK’s size to be evaluating its work using this robust method.

I have been a trustee with Chance UK for almost 3 years now. Before I joined I explored a number of other charities, but Chance UK really stood out for me. Why? Because as this short blog shows, rather than accepting anecdotal evidence that they are doing good work, they wanted to go further, and really test how they are making a difference. Chance UK is a charity that is really punching above its weight when it comes to impact. In an ideal world, all charities would be doing the same.