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Wednesday, September 19 • 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Between the known and the unknown: exploring innovation in evidence-based programs

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Alexandra Ellinson (UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance)

As evaluators we are increasingly tasked with assessing innovation in programs—including in programs that are also intended to be evidence-based. While there isn't an inherent contradiction here, there can be some tensions. The imperative for evaluators to account for both innovation and an evidence-base creates challenges in evaluation design, delivery and reporting: particularly because innovation is often associated with high expectations around outcomes (or at least more efficient outcomes), even if the response is less thoroughly tried and tested.  

To navigate these challenges, it is helpful to clarify (and to do so in collaboration with program commissioners and deliverers) what stages and around what aspects of a program innovation is expected to operate. Drawing on lessons from recent projects, I outline a typology that locates innovation in (1) the commissioning approach e.g. outcomes-based contracting; (2) the funding strategy e.g. social investment models; (3) the design process e.g. co-design, and/or (4) the structure of information sharing within program delivery e.g. developmental learning. As each of these is an attempt to encourage more responsive, targeted and often localised solutions, each demands different ways of prioritising the role of evidence in informing what might work best. 

I conclude by reflecting on the need for evaluators to recognise how our activity can create or contribute to risk-averse program environments that are less conducive to innovation. We need to reflect critically on our 'observer effect'. Accordingly, I set out some practical considerations for evaluators—from how we use theory, resource evaluation components, and report on outcomes—so that we work in a way that minimises these impacts.

avatar for Ian Patrick

Ian Patrick

Director, Ian Patrick & Associates
Dr. Ian Patrick has wide experience in the evaluation, design and management of social sector programs. This includes a strong background in design and implementation of M&E systems, conduct of program evaluations, strategic planning, analysis and research, and training and academic... Read More →

avatar for Alexandra Ellinson

Alexandra Ellinson

Manager, Evaluation, Research & Policy, Institute for Public Policy & Governance, UTS
Alexandra delivers strategic evaluations, reviews and consultancies, working in partnership with clients. She is deeply knowledgeable about the social services sector and has particular expertise in interagency responses to complex issues, such as housing and homelessness, domestic... Read More →

Wednesday September 19, 2018 4:00pm - 5:00pm AEST
Chancellor 3