One of the unique challenges of taking a Public Health Approach to reducing violence is evidencing that what we are doing works. After all, if our aim is to change something as broad as social attitudes towards violence, or work with a whole-systems approach to reducing violence, the number of outcomes we could measure is both unlimited and really hard to capture! We can measure a reduction in violent crime or homicides, but if we don’t know if what we’ve done is effective and sustainable, our impact may be short lived.

That is why at the Violence Reduction Unit, we aim to make sure that the work we fund and encourage is evidenced to reduce violence. One valuable tool for this is the Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit, which reviews all available evidence for many different types of violence interventions. We know that any intervention or community activity has at least a chance of reducing violence if the general approach is supported by the YEF.

But we don’t just rely on the toolkit! Each year we evaluate a select group of our grant recipients and our funded initiatives, using an external and therefore independent research company. Our external evaluator for the past two years has been Rocket Science, who are hard at work running a quasi-random study (that’s pretty good, for those of you who don’t spend your lives obsessing over experiment design!) on the impact of our Plan B Custody Navigators service in reducing violent offending. They are also carrying out interviews with clients, young people involved in our grant funded projects, and their families and staff, so we get a thorough picture of how everything is going.

We also want to make sure our partners have the best evidence available. We can of course direct them to the YEF, but we also commission and work with universities to carry out our own research. Over the years we have worked with Sheffield Hallam University to investigate the effects of knife imagery and artwork on young people’s perceptions of knives, and used this and other evidence to write a Knife Crime Education guidance document for all schools to use.

Of course, following the evidence can be uncomfortable. No one wants to abandon a project that people have poured hundreds of hours of work and their heart and soul into because someone ran the numbers through a complicated statistical model and gave it the thumbs down. But it is so important to make sure that we are not doing anything, well intentioned or not, that makes things worse. This was the case with “scare ‘em straight” programmes; taking at-risk youths into prison to show them around and “scare ‘em straight”. Turns out, that increases offending rather than decreasing it, and so any intervention we see that does this has to be excluded from our funding. If we rule out what doesn’t work, we can pour our funding, energy, and passion into what does.