How evidence synthesis is helping NCB find solutions to complex social issues

The National Children's Bureau helps create better childhoods. For some children and young people that means finding ways to help keep them out of the criminal justice system. 

We’re currently leading a project to summarise the best available evidence on how to implement youth diversion strategies and support guidance in best practice delivery.

Once this review – commissioned by the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) – is complete, our research team will make a series of actionable recommendations.

The project is being managed by Dr Ciara Keenan, NCB’s evidence synthesis specialist, with support from leading academics from Cambridge University and Queen’s University Belfast.

NCB is delighted to have been awarded funding for this work as we are very well placed to respond to YEF's brief with the access we have to multi-disciplinary researchers.

Using a robust and rigorous evidence synthesis methodology, the team are producing a series of short reports focusing on activity that keeps children and young people away from formal processes and outcomes in the period between initial contact with the police and an appearance at court.

These reports will help shape a guidance and summary report that will include a series of recommendations for implementation at both practice and policy levels.

Ciara has an international reputation in evidence synthesis. She worked closely with, and for, the Campbell Collaboration for over a decade as a Methods Editor and has vast experience leading individual review teams over various evidence synthesis products, including Evidence and Gap maps, systematic reviews and meta-analysis.

Photo of Dr Ciara Keenan

As a proponent of evidence synthesis for over a decade, I see the usefulness of the method in tackling complex social problems, because it provides a structured and objective approach to evaluating the available evidence and distilling knowledge.
I’ve tackled similar ‘wicked problems’ in the past with this method, on topics including homelessness, ethnic prejudice and family planning in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), and I have learned that in the absence of rigorous and transparent evidence synthesis, inconsistent or controversial guidance can fill the gap which creates confusion and contradictions and ultimately delays real progress being made.
Using robust evidence synthesis, following methods advised by collaborations like Campbell and Cochrane, we can synthesise and summarise the available data from various sources, including research studies and expert opinions, to provide a comprehensive understanding of diversion programmes. The method we are using helps overcome limitations of relying on individual studies or sources of information, which may be biased, incomplete, or outdated, and provides a more reliable and trustworthy basis for decision-making and problem-solving.
Ultimately, the services we provide for children and young people, particularly those most in need of support, must be based on the evidence of what works.

Dr Ciara Keenan, Senior Research and Development Manager, NCB

YEF is a charity working to prevent children and young people becoming involved in violence. Established in March 2019 by children’s charity Impetus, YEF has a £200m endowment and a ten-year mandate from the Home Office.

You can find out more about other NCB research and evidence projects here.