Mixed blessings

The Children’s Fund’s national evaluation team held
an online conference recently. There were eminent keynote speakers
delivered by video stream, discussion papers and a pavilion area to
view the wares of others and exchange ideas with participants. Once
I had got past the novelty value of being able to use the pause
button to stop Margaret Hodge mid-sentence, I had a great time
dipping in and out of different papers and listening to speakers,
all sitting at my desk.

Although a prolific collector of briefings, articles and
research I struggle to read anything in the depth it deserves, I
just don’t get the chance – does anyone? I go to meetings
where people possess the latest findings and reports, and most have
a well thumbed summary and at best some comments on the first
couple of chapters. I do wonder if those who read the bundles of
stuff have either got too much time on their hands (in the office)
or need to get a life outside work. I have told my partner to
divorce me if journals or reports start appearing next to the

Recent months have seen the publication of analysis and evidence
about the Children’s Fund, extended schools, Sure Start,
anti-crime initiatives, referral and tracking trailblazers and many
more. Evaluation is now big business, and increasingly the learning
and evidence from each study criss-crosses so you can’t
really ignore any of them. I studiously print them off, peruse the
summary and then usually put it on the growing pile. All of them
are relevant and interesting in their own right but not exactly
beach holiday page-turners.

I block off a morning in my diary and write “reading” but it
ends up feeling like a luxury rather than necessity – keeping up to
date is of course crucial but it doesn’t tick any jobs off
the list. I have decided to unsubscribe from some of the e-mails
from social care journals, government departments, research
institutes and newspapers that regularly drop into my inbox. They
do keep you current but it is easy to get into the peripheral
stuff: “Look, an article on the benefits of sunflower seeds for the
treatment of depression – I’ll print that off and read it

Children’s Fund programmes will find out their allocations
for 2005-8 in August. We have started prioritising which services
will be supported, but until we know what the settlement is we
can’t say how far down the list of priorities we will get.
Judging progress, future prospects and relevance across a spread of
services and locations is difficult and nothing I have read tells
me how to do this – putting the contenders in a house over the
summer and getting the public to vote them out one at a time is
emerging as an option.

The online conference material is still accessible on the net
via www.ne-cf.org.uk. Go on,
make the time – you know you should.

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