Common Outcomes Framework
Why implement an Outcomes Framework?
A common measurement framework, if firmly implemented and underpinned by a commitment to rigorous and consistent data collection, supports planning and evaluation locally because it helps to understand where programmes and policies are making a difference. At the same time, it can highlight areas for improvement or prioritisation. The COF facilitates this by drawing on routine data, both minimising the burden of data collection and providing a convenient source of comparison data, such as national trends or data on statistical neighbours. An overarching framework, such as the ABS COF, reflects a commitment to improving child outcomes that spans different agencies and stakeholders, and encourages coordination of work towards a common goal.
What does the Framework measure?
The COF leverages routinely collected data to collate information on key outcomes and indicators of child development. It is centred around critical milestones in the early years – birth outcome, school readiness and key stage attainment – and covers the three strategic outcomes that are the focus of ‘A Better Start’:
- Social and emotional development: preventing harm before it happens (including abuse and/or safeguarding, neglect, perinatal mental health and domestic violence) as well as promoting good attunement and attachment.
- Communication and language development: developing skills in parents to talk, read and sing to, and particularly praise their babies and toddlers and to ensure local childcare services emphasise language development.
- Diet and nutrition: starting out by encouraging breast-feeding and promoting good nutritional practices.
How was the Framework developed?
The COF is the result of a consultation process with the five ABS sites and a wide range of experts in the field of child development, underpinned by a review of the evidence base and driven by availability of routinely collected data. The Framework reflects the ‘MVP’ principles: To give the Framework the best possible chance of being implemented within the ABS areas and beyond, buy-in from those working with and for children and families is essential. Outcomes included in the COF therefore need to strike a chord with those involved, both at the policy level and personnel "on the ground" (M: meaningful). At the same time, the Framework needs to hold up to scrutiny from experts and scientists (V: valid), otherwise it will be difficult to use the data collected to effect broader social changes. Finally, data collection should not impose an unnecessary burden on personnel or services (P: pragmatic).
Conclusions and recommendations
The Framework captures key milestones in child development, and outcomes associated with a positive trajectory. The framework is designed to be implemented with relative ease, and relevant comparison data are readily available from routine data sources. But use of routine data brings with it certain limitations. The language of routinely collected data is often deficit-focussed, subtly shifting the focus from improving wellbeing towards ‘reduction of problems’. The nature of routinely collected data means that more complex concepts – for example, attachment and attunement – tend to go unmeasured. A key challenge for those seeking to improve child outcomes will therefore be to continue to develop data collection capacity, not just to be able to expand routine collections, but also to ensure the quality of data already being collected. These efforts need to be supported by a clear incentive structure that puts the wellbeing of children and families at the heart of service provision and programme development because the purpose of the COF is support improvement in outcomes through evaluation and measurement – but measurement is not an end in itself.