Resurgo's Jo Rice: Data and the haunting questions that keep a good charity CEO up at night

Everybody at Resurgo, indeed everyone I’ve ever met in the charity sector, believes one thing: what we do makes a difference.

We believe it because we know the young people that we’ve helped; and the stories of how their lives have changed are often remarkable. They have overcome the most terrible circumstances or gone on to achieve great things, often they have done both. These stories are what keep us going through the tough times and they reinforce our belief that what we do makes a difference.

But these anecdotes are not data. And despite the stories, the haunting questions that keep a good CEO up at night are always nagging:

Are we really making a difference? Could we be doing what we do better?

These are not just the considerations of an insomniac; the big issues that the charitable sector, funders and government are trying to solve seem remarkably persistent – despite the stories.

Over the last decade, much of our work with Impetus has been about trying to answer these big questions and with their support we’ve been able to ensure we deliver the most effective programme we can, as consistently as we can.

And more recently, thanks to the remarkable findings of Impetus’ Youth Jobs Gap series through their use of the LEO dataset, we have been able to compare the performance of our Spear Programme, supporting NEET young people into sustained employment, with a base case of what might have happened without our work. By looking at similarly qualified and similarly disadvantaged NEET young people in London, and comparing their outcomes to those of the young people we serve, we can see the difference we make.

Just 14% of NEET young people in this benchmark group have moved into some form of earning or learning after three months, if you compare this to young people on the Spear Programme, 43% of them are in work or education three months after the six week foundation to the programme. Young people that complete the Spear Programme outperform their peers by three times.

The data also shows that we’re doing a good job supporting some of the most vulnerable groups. After 3 months, just 11% of young people in the benchmark group with fewer than five GCSEs have moved into work, compared to 31% of young people who go through Spear. Similarly, while 13% of young people in the benchmark group who had received free school meals at school have moved from NEET to EET after 3 months, 40% of the ones on the Spear programme achieve this. Impetus’ broader Youth Jobs Gap research shows that these two groups make up a disproportionate share of NEET young people; knowing that our work benefits them, is as important as it is reassuring.

This benchmarking process has been invaluable to us and gives us so much confidence that we really are serving the young people we exist for. They really can trust us when we say we can make a significant difference in their lives. And that confidence is powerful, for us as a team and for young people who carry very little hope for their futures.

The LEO data that Impetus has used is hard to come by but the DWP are now developing an employment data lab to help providers benchmark their services. But to capitalize on this there is a significant investment needed and work to be done in the charitable sector to ensure that we are gathering the data we need to be able to engage in this kind of analysis. It’s the only way of being sure that we aren’t living on the fumes of a few good stories and actually moving the needle on the social issues we exist to address.

It would be easy to underestimate just how much effort that takes. We are seven years into our impact journey and these results are not the end of the process. There is more we can and will do to make sure Resurgo’s Spear Programme is as effective as it can be. But for now it is reassuring to have evidence that what we always believed is in fact true: Resurgo is making a difference.

Jo is CEO of Resurgo having co-founded the charity in 2003 with Tom Jackson.

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