Data access scheme set up to help charities win probation service contracts

The Justice Data Lab, established by the Ministry of Justice, will allow organisations that work with offenders to demonstrate their effectiveness to prime contractors

Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice

- This story has been updated; please see final paragraph

A new initiative to help voluntary sector organisations access data about reoffending will be launched today by the Ministry of Justice.

The move is intended to help smaller charities get the data they need to prove their effectiveness and help them win contracts in the government’s reforms to the probation service, known as Transforming Rehabilitation.

Rebecca Endean, director of analytical services at the Ministry of Justice, told Third Sector: "We want to make sure that small charities get a chance to play in the market. We found that one of the barriers to this was the difficulty they had finding statutory offending data. This will give them access to that data."

The Justice Data Lab will allow charities that work with people at risk of reoffending to enter details of the people they work with and receive information about how the cohort compares with a control group taken from the national database over a one-year period.

The data will be anonymised so that no individuals can be identified.

The site should allow even those charities that work with very specialised groups to find out how comparable groups are performing, said Endean.

"If you work only with young drug offenders in Norwich, you can get a sample of young drug offenders in East Anglia," she said.

Charities would have to submit "a fair amount of information" about how they work to allow the government to match their results closely with the correct control, she said.

Results will be generated individually for each request, so it will take about a month for charities to get their data.

Endean said that although the site had been set up to help charities compete in the procurement process, the information received would not be used directly in procurement decisions.

The Ministry of Justice intends to publish all the results it receives in a quarterly review, and possibly on the website, so that charities get the widest possible information about the most effective interventions.

The project has been produced in partnership with the charity sector research specialist New Philanthropy Capital, which started working on the idea about 18 months ago.

David Pritchard, head of measurement and evaluation at NPC, said the data lab would allow organisations to evaluate their impact, benchmark against their peers and provide evidence of their effectiveness to prime contractors.

"A lot of these organisations have been at the ground floor in how they evaluate their impact," he said. "This takes them to pretty near the top.

"If their intervention is working well, they can show it. If not, they can assess why not."

Pritchard said he hoped similar systems could be used elsewhere in government – for example, with the unemployed or with at-risk children.

- The story originally said that the comparative data supplied by the Justice Data Lab would be over a two-year period, as the MoJ had said. It has since confirmed that the default period will be over one year, although data over two years could be provided where available.

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