Any strategic approach to long-term improvement needs to be evidence-informed and rely on comprehensive, purposeful and quality data for monitoring and evaluation. Over the next decade, CLCs will need to build strong data systems and outcomes measurement capability to ensure they are sustainable into the future.
In order to perform its role in supporting and enhancing the work of CLCs, the Federation needs comprehensive data on legal need and demand for services, service delivery provided by CLCs, and outcomes and impact. The Federation is already working to support data improvements across the sector, however there is more work to be done. CLCs need to explore opportunities for comprehensive and consistent data collection, maintenance, analysis and reporting.
The existing data system for the CLC sector is fragmented – there is no comprehensive and consistent approach to data across Victoria. CLASS is the primary system used for data collection by CLCs in Victoria and is administered by Community Legal Centres Australia; however it is only used by 31 CLCs. Further to this, only 75 per cent of the data of these 31 CLCs is collected on CLASS because it relates to government-funded services. The Federation does not have ready access to the majority of this data, which creates difficulties when communicating the sector’s work to government or the public.
Effective data collection across all CLCs would provide a much more comprehensive picture of the work that CLCs do. This would assist CLCs in being able to communicate the work that they do to the community and to government, in turn improving CLC funding and sustainability in the long-term. The Federation would be better able to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement, as well as have a better understanding of existing strengths and successes so that they can be built on.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the way that government measures performance and the effectiveness of programs and services– from only measuring outputs to also measuring outcomes. Increasingly, service providers are implementing outcome measurement to determine whether their projects or programs are achieving their objectives. Outcome measurement can demonstrate to government how well participants have benefited from a service or program, demonstrate the net effects of the CLC sector, and be used to identify those with greater needs.
Ongoing outcomes measurement and evaluation across CLCs in Victoria can evidence-inform decision-making about which services are best suited to community needs and are having real impacts on people’s lives. CLCs face increasing demands from funders for accountability and verification of service delivery effectiveness through demonstration of evidence-informed practices. As governments reshape service sectors there is an expectation that outcomes will be measureable.
To remain relevant in this fast-changing context, CLCs need to take a proactive approach to developing outcomes measures that demonstrate the value of their services to the community. Many CLCs have already recognised the need to measure the effectiveness of their services and programs and understand the importance of building a knowledge base to inform and influence sector change, however often lack the capacity to do so. In recent years, there have been efforts across the CLC sector to monitor and evaluate whether CLCs are achieving effective outcomes for clients, but there is more to do.
In December 2017, the Federation released an Outcomes Measurement Framework that can be utilised by CLCs across Victoria to measure and evaluate their services, and to evidence-inform stories about CLC’s individual and collective impact. The Framework enables the Federation to engage and support CLCs to strengthen their evaluation capability and capacity, while encouraging a shared commitment to evidence-informed practice.
Current levels of capacity and capability to carry out such evaluation activities is variable across the sector. A strategic and purposeful approach is needed to ensure that such capabilities are supported, built and strengthened across both generalist and specialist CLCs.
A selected cohort of services that have been evaluated and achieve measurable outcomes would be extremely useful in demonstrating the value of CLCs to the community and to government, and in turn in improving funding and the sustainability of CLCs across Victoria. Outcomes and outcomes measurement are expected to become an increasingly important feature of community legal assistance services and funding requirements, just as it has in other community service sectors.
In addition to this, if CLCs across Victoria engaged in purposeful and consistent outcome measurement and evaluation activity, the Federation would be able to identify successful models of service delivery to be identified and replicated across the sector. These state-wide models would enable CLCs to adopt best practice and scale up service delivery to increase impact and efficiency, collaborate, reduce costs, and maximise use of existing resources, and support stronger business cases to government for increased CLC funding.