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The PEI reports: new digital library of two decades of research into what works

Q and A with CES Data Curator, Ruth Geraghty


In December 2020, a major archiving project entitled the ‘Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative’ will complete. The Data Curator for this project, Ruth Geraghty, has been working with community and voluntary organisations and researchers in the children and youth sector since 2016 to preserve and share research data, reports and evaluation materials in the national data archives. This includes a large collection of evaluation and research reports in the Digital Repository of Ireland. In this blog Ruth answers some questions about this new collection, The Prevention and Early Intervention Publications.

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Q: Ruth, you’ve just archived a collection of publications from the Atlantic Philanthropies’ Children and Youth programme, in the Digital Repository of Ireland. Can you say a bit more about this collection?

This is a collection of research and evaluation reports that are the product of two decades of investment in prevention and early intervention in the children and youth sector in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Atlantic began funding the sector in 2003, and under their Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative (PEII) were advocating a greater focus on prevention and early intervention approaches to address social issues, where the idea is to head off problems before they take root. This was followed by a funding partnership with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, initially to deliver the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) in three locations in Ireland, and then extend this to an additional nine locations under the Area Based Programme (ABC). These initiatives supported organisations that were working with children and young people to reach their full potential, sometimes overcoming very difficult odds. A core aim was to improve research and evidence to inform better policy and practice, and all organisations in receipt of funding were required to participate in, or commission, an independent and rigorous evaluation of their programme or service. This resulted in an extensive and home-grown evidence base for prevention and early intervention, and in 2015, Atlantic awarded a legacy grant to the Children’s Research Network to archive this evidence base in the national data archives.

So, the archiving of these evaluation and research reports is part of a larger archiving project?

Yes, the archiving project has also been actively preserving research data from these evaluations in the public data archives since 2016. To date, data from twelve studies conducted under this initiative have been deposited in the Irish Social Science Data Archive along with a qualitative collection of interviews which was deposited with the Irish Qualitative Data Archive. Now we’re in the final stages of this project, we’ve started to develop research tools and resources which will be of particular value to the community working with children and young people. One of these resources is a public database of measurement tools that were used across all the evaluations, which was presented at the International Digital Curation Conference in Dublin in January 2020.

Your project was entrusted by the copyright holders of these reports — primarily community organisations and higher level institutions — to archive their publications in the DRI. Why do you think they were supportive of this work?

An investment of this scale into service design and social science research is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon and there is widespread recognition of the value of the material amongst the copyright holders. However, this is alongside a high risk of obsolescence — reports were already getting buried on websites by the time I started to collate everything in 2016. Therefore, the preservation work felt quite urgent, especially as research tends to move on quickly and context knowledge gets lost. As the national infrastructure for social science data, the DRI provides a means to collate everything as a digital library with permanent identifiers, and this really widened the audience for these reports.

This is quite a diverse collection, as the reports were written by different research teams, who were evaluating different programmes that addressed very different social issues. What binds all of these reports together as a meaningful collection?

The collection traces the evolution of an evidence-based approach to service delivery for children, young people and their families. Prior to the initiative, programmes and services were often quite reactive in their design, responding to problems as they arose in the community, often after they’d become entrenched in peoples’ lives. The initiative introduced new ways of identifying needs, designing services and improving the work of providers (Mathematica, 2015). Many of the interventions that were funded under Atlantic’s initiative were the basis of programmes that are still ongoing today. With the inclusion of the reports from the national evaluation of the Area Based Childhood programme (2018), this collection traces the story to its final stage, when Atlantic and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs sought to embed the PEI approach into mainstream services. Also, there are many interlinkages across the various programmes and evaluation teams, which would have required a semantic knowledge of these connections to understand how it all fits together. The DRI enabled us to make these connections more explicit through the creative use of the metadata.

It seems that the collection will be of interest not just to those working in prevention and early intervention, but from the wider field of social and health sciences?

Yes absolutely, the evaluations were mostly undertaken by academic researchers with expertise in the social or developmental issue being targeted by each programme. The initiative was also instrumental in building a technical infrastructure for evaluation research in the universities and community organisations; some researchers cut their teeth on these evaluations, while for others it was an incredible opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues from different universities and disciplinary areas on a shared interest. Each study gathered rich, primary research about Irish family life, including childhood, parent-child relationships, family dynamics, and all within the context of a changing social and economic climate. For example, some of the studies conducted comprehensive needs assessments in the form of extensive baseline surveying, the likes of which would be very expensive and difficult to repeat. Many of the reports include rich qualitative research, such as interviews with fathers and father figures, young people’s experience of their sexual identity, and young Black and Minority Ethnic children’s perceptions of exclusion.

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Why was it important to make this an open access collection in the DRI?

Most of the reports have been publicly available on the websites of the various copyright holders since their publication and weren’t necessarily written for an expert audience, so they are quite accessible. What this project has done is collate them together in a more permanent format and has added context or signposting in the form of metadata. The project aligned very well with the core objective of CES to support agencies, government departments and service providers to identify and use good quality evidence to deliver more effective services. It also aligns with current policy initiatives, such as the What Works initiative that was launched by Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2019 to connect and consolidate learning from the PEI investment to inform the next phase of planning, delivery and evaluation of services for children, young people and their families.

Browse the collection here. The Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative archiving project will conclude in December 2020. For further information please contact Ruth Geraghty at rgeraghty@effectiveservices.org. This collection complements the Atlantic Philanthropies Archive Project at the Digital Repository of Ireland, which documents the wider investment by The Atlantic Philanthropies on the island of Ireland.