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Vaithegi Vasanthakumar (@VaithegiV) is a member of the global efficacy team with the Office of the Chief Education Advisor, Pearson. You can follow the team's work at efficacy.pearson.com 

The first event in the RSA’s current ‘planning for real impact’ series explored whether Pearson’s approach to efficacy and the RSA’s Power to Create concept might help organisations engaged in youth employment programmes achieve better outcomes for young people. The delegates were drawn from a range of commercial and third-sector providers of employability services, as well as educationalists, employers and policy makers.

For context, Pearson defines efficacy as having a “measurable impact on improving people’s lives through learning” – a commitment it is applying rigorously across the business – for example, any internal investment or acquisition requires a review of the efficacy behind it, alongside the usual financial assessment. Also, products and services are developed based on robust research that supports in the delivery of meaningful, measurable outcomes.

Several themes emerged from the seminar:

The need to align on intended outcomes.

A common theme from the table discussions was that there was a myriad of players operating in the youth employment area yet there were no clearly defined outcomes for the overarching area, or a clear understanding and alignment on what the outcomes were. For example, in a sector where the government calls the shots with regards to funding, the outcomes upon which contracts are conditional will have primacy. At the same time however, the provider has different outcomes that they are trying to achieve – this is more acute where the focus of the provider is entirely at the individual-level and where it’s success is entirely dependent on those individuals’ mental health, lifestyle choices and so on.

Given the complexity of the system and the various outcomes each player intends to achieve, it is in fact, even more important to ensure that the sector defines what the intended outcomes are, aligns them and defines associated metrics. Only then will a clear picture of the state and progress of programmes and innovation emerge through this clarity.

As an example of how this could work, delegates heard how CTI and MGI, two higher education providers in South Africa that were fully acquired by Pearson in 2013, are using a focus on efficacy to create a culture change across the organisation where all levels of management (eg HR, sales, marketing, finance etc) align on what learner outcomes CTI and MGI should achieve. The importance of each stakeholder knowing how the defined outcomes relate to their own role was also highlighted as key to increasing understanding on what each individual could do to impact the broader outcomes.

Do not allow an over reliance on the ‘easy to quantify’ outcomes.

There was also much discussion on how, when there is a focus on measurable outcomes, it’s often the quantifiable outcomes that are measured and reported. The risk of not including outcomes that were harder to measure was highlighted. These outcomes could be resilience, self-actualisation, well-being and self-awareness. They might be harder to measure, but the overwhelming consensus was that there need to be ways of evaluating them or at least accounting for them when reviewing the efficacy of a programme or service.

A culture change across the youth employment sector is required.

Regardless of whether participants felt that a system-wide culture change needed to occur to embrace a focus on outcomes, or that the culture change required was too large for the system given the urgency of the current need, there was an underlying sense that for a single-minded focus on improving the outcomes for youth to be adopted, a culture change was necessary. The dire statistic of 75 million youth worldwide that are unemployed calls for this dramatic move to shift the tide on an important group of society.

Given the discussions and insights uncovered, some questions for consideration emerge to mind… At the micro-level, what if organisations defined their own outcomes, metrics and targets and shared them with other organisations that work in the same area? What if each key stakeholder group formed a view of what the outcomes were that each macro-level group sought to achieve? This could lead to increased clarity and a better understanding of each group’s outcomes.

More to come from this series including a final publication that will be launched on March 24, 2015 – stay tuned for details!

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