Evaluation of outreach interventions for under 16 year olds: Tools and guidance for higher education providers.

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Harrison, Neil, Vigurs, Katy, Crockford, Julian, McCaig Colin, Squire, Ruth and Clark, Lewis 2018. Evaluation of outreach interventions for under 16 year olds: Tools and guidance for higher education providers. Office for Students (OfS).
AuthorsHarrison, Neil, Vigurs, Katy, Crockford, Julian, McCaig Colin, Squire, Ruth and Clark, Lewis
Abstract

During 2017-18, OFFA commissioned research that aimed to understand the nature of outreach activities for under 16 year olds (which were funded through access and participation investment) and how these were evaluated. This document, developed from the research, is intended to act as a resource for pre-16 outreach practitioners and evaluators, drawing both on the data collected by this project and the wider literature around evaluation and outreach. It seeks to recognise the complexity of pre-16 outreach work and eschews a prescriptive approach in favour of establishing important principles and actions that are likely to underpin good practice. Our discussion is broadly positioned within a ‘social realist’ worldview (Archer, 2008; Pawson, 2013) that seeks to understand the fuzzy nature of the cause-and-effect relationships that exist within complex social fields, where individuals construct their own realities in reference to those around them. There is a particular focus on epistemology – the pathways to creating dependable, if contingent, knowledge – as a vehicle for making meaning from data that is usually incomplete, compromised or mediated through young people’s emergent constructions of their worlds. Fundamentally, outreach is predicated on the ability of practitioners to influence young people in a planned way, albeit that the plan will not always work for every young person in every cohort. An important element in this epistemology is that it is not concerned with finding single ‘solutions’ that exist outside time and context. Rather, it is concerned with understanding how young people are influenced by their life experiences – not ‘what works’, but what works in a given context and, importantly, why. It is only through understanding the latter element that practices can become robustly effective in the long-term and potentially transferable to other contexts. This is particularly appropriate to pre-16 outreach work due to the lengthy time lag between activity and application to higher education (HE).

During 2017-18, OFFA commissioned research that aimed to understand the nature of
outreach activities for under 16 year olds (which were funded through access and
participation investment) and how these were evaluated.
This document, developed from the research, is intended to act as a resource for pre-16
outreach practitioners and evaluators, drawing both on the data collected by this project
and the wider literature around evaluation and outreach. It seeks to recognise the
complexity of pre-16 outreach work and eschews a prescriptive approach in favour of
establishing important principles and actions that are likely to underpin good practice.
Our discussion is broadly positioned within a ‘social realist’ worldview (Archer, 2008;
Pawson, 2013) that seeks to understand the fuzzy nature of the cause-and-effect
relationships that exist within complex social fields, where individuals construct their own
realities in reference to those around them. There is a particular focus on epistemology –
the pathways to creating dependable, if contingent, knowledge – as a vehicle for making
meaning from data that is usually incomplete, compromised or mediated through young
people’s emergent constructions of their worlds. Fundamentally, outreach is predicated on
the ability of practitioners to influence young people in a planned way, albeit that the plan
will not always work for every young person in every cohort.
An important element in this epistemology is that it is not concerned with finding single
‘solutions’ that exist outside time and context. Rather, it is concerned with understanding
how young people are influenced by their life experiences – not ‘what works’, but what
works in a given context and, importantly, why. It is only through understanding the latter
element that practices can become robustly effective in the long-term and potentially
transferable to other contexts. This is particularly appropriate to pre-16 outreach work due
to the lengthy time lag between activity and application to higher education (HE).

KeywordsHigher education; Widening participation; Evaluation; Outreach
Year2018
PublisherOffice for Students (OfS)
Web address (URL)http://hdl.handle.net/10545/623228
hdl:10545/623228
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Publication dates13 Dec 2018
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Deposited17 Dec 2018, 13:30
ContributorsInternational Centre for Guidance Studies
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