Events like the National Multiple Needs Summit (22nd April 2015) are always a great opportunity for evaluators like me to have our beloved measures and outcomes illuminated by the personal touch of human experience. Over 300 delegates filed into the circular grand Assembly Hall of Church House in Westminster taking in the impressive glass dome and oak panelled walls. The building was used by the two houses of parliament during the second world war and has echoed to many an historic speech, including Churchill announcing the sinking of the Bismarck, no less.

It’s an intimidating setting for any presenter. Chaired by Baroness Tyler, the context for the day was set by three powerful personal testimonies form Linzi, Peter and Karen. It takes a considerable amount of courage and bravery to walk into this setting, surrounded on all sides by expectant faces, and speak thoughtfully, reflectively and intelligently about the most difficult and personal aspects of your life.

Following this there were over 30 workshops to choose from with some repeated in different session during the day. The workshops I attended were both excellent, for different reasons. The first on Psychologically Informed Environments (PIEs) and Trauma Informed Care (TIC) provided excellent content and examples from the workshop leads. A well attended session with probing questions and interesting discussion of relevant issues. We talked about the use of language with clients and “asking people to recover in a foreign language” with examples such as ‘emotional dysregulation’ rather than ‘getting upset’!

Multiple Needs

There was also an interesting challenge around the danger of elevating experience above everything else and not recognising the importance of training and support required to build on that experience. It always piques my interest to hear those comments which, like the salmon swimming upstream, go against the flow a little. Events such as these are now heavily enthused with the power of ‘user voice’, and rightly so. The historical dominance of learned professionalism in policy, practice and evaluation has only relatively recently been challenged by the learning gained through experience. However, the point was well made that experience alone is not always enough. There is a need to provide the necessary support and training for service users and for a collaboration of professional and experiential expertise. Put more bluntly, “there are some appalling key workers with or without lived experience and some brilliant ones too”. Qualifications and experience don’t necessarily guarantee one or the other.

In another workshop there was a more philosophical and values-based debate around the use of social finance – and other funding models – to fund service provision and whether it is right to generate profit through people with multiple and complex needs?

Overall it was an informative and challenging day – in a good way! If anything, the pre-planned workshops provided more than enough content for the day and the addition of ‘open-space’ style impromptu workshops was probably not needed.

The only lingering doubt I have, and possibly a way forward, is that this is an event which, by and large, preaches to the converted. The powerful personal testimonies play an invaluable role in focusing the attention of delegates where it should be: the real lives of ordinary people and the ability to influence change. I doubt if any of those attending hadn’t heard a similar story before. The challenge is for us to get those stories of change and of hope out to a new, and preferably influential, audience. The role of evaluation is as much about that as it is about measures and outcomes.

Jon Adamson
Associate Director 0116 229 3300 |