Commissioning for impact
The importance of considering commissioning-related issues
NFER research found that many Children’s Services directorates have no formal systems for commissioning research, instead commissioning on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis when time and funding permit. Established processes were formerly used in some directorates, but have lapsed due to constraints on time, capacity and funding. Where this has occurred, interviewees express the desire to have them reinstated.
‘We had links…but these have fallen off the agenda because there’s no room and everything is driven by central department impact’
The lack of formal process was attributed by some interviewees to the infancy of the integrated Children’s Services departments, and plans to develop a process were anticipated as this new structured matures.
It is essential to use good quality research to inform policy and practice. Having an organised approach and considering some key factors when commissioning research will contribute to its quality and impact.
What makes commissioning effective in Local Authorities?
Reviewing the commissioning process
Some Children’s Services interviewees spoke of formal processes whereby knowledge management teams or corporate research departments considered requests for research, had responsibility for deciding whether projects would proceed, and made arrangements for them to be carried out. There was interest in such an approach in authorities which lack an established system.
'We want a small number of policy or research officers with broad remits who will be in a position to scan national research and who will ask questions’.
Close collaboration with researchers
Fostering close working relationships between researchers and Local Authority officers ensures that the research fulfils its original requirements. Work with researchers and engage in dialogue to highlight your research needs, priorities and relevance.
Links with university departments and research organisations
Such organisations may offer a research sharing service, which ensures thorough dissemination to interested parties. They may also arrange training events and conferences which facilitate Local Authority officers’ understanding of research issues, informing the commissioning of future research.
Employing doctorate students
Commissioning suitable doctorate students to conduct or assist with research can be cost-effective.
Conducting pilot studies prior to commissioning research
Consider carrying out pilot studies prior to conducting major research projects. This enables departments to ascertain the viability of the research prior to the input of significant time or financial investment.
Consider developing the Local Authority’s internal capacity for conducting research
By conducting research in-house, staff’s research skills and knowledge of research issues would improve and costs could be significantly reduced.
Consider the extent of researcher’s knowledge and understanding of the local area
Prior knowledge of the local area and awareness of the issues affecting it are important criteria for external consultants to fulfil. Case Study 5