The cohort model: A new direction for Project Oracle

8 October 2015

The Project Oracle Cohort Model is a simple concept: we form a small group of funders, youth organisations and academics from within a given segment of the youth sector, and offer them a 12-month programme of support to improve the quantity and quality of their evidence.

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What is Project Oracle?

Project Oracle is a children and youth evidence hub that aims to improve outcomes for young people in London. We do this by building the capacity of youth organisations and funders to deliver and commission evidence-based projects, creating an ecosystem in which evidence is widely gathered, used and shared. Our five Standards of Evidence help organisations to understand the process of evaluation at each stage in the journey, and are also used by funders and commissioners to identify the most promising interventions.

What is the Cohort Model?

We have recently launched an innovative new way of working: the Project Oracle Cohort Model. The concept is simple. We form a small group of funders, youth organisations and academics from within a given segment of the youth sector, and offer them a 12-month programme of support to improve the quantity and quality of their evidence. We invite them to attend intensive capacity-building workshops, co-create evaluation plans and tools, and then share this knowledge and insight with funders and the wider sector. By going on this journey together, we hope to inspire joined up learning and collaboration, so that evidence is something they share in and can use for the right purposes.

Our overall aim is to empower the Cohort to form a vanguard, raising the status - and standard - of evidence throughout the sector. By working with a cross-section of stakeholders, the Cohort reinforces the idea of an ‘ecosystem’ where peer learning and collaboration are maximised for better evidence.

Where are we now?

Our first Cohort sits within the arts sector – a notoriously challenging climate for producing robust evidence, given the often intangible nature of the outcomes they seek and severe cuts to their funding.

The organisations that belong to the Arts Cohort cover a whole range of interventions - from supporting young people to enter arts-related employment, to running youth clubs and providing education support. Since the launch in June, these organisations have completed a series of intensive training sessions in evaluation design and delivery. They have co-designed evaluation plans and identified common outcomes to roll out simultaneously at the start of their programmes, the majority of which commenced in September.

And what happens next?

As our cohort members begin the most challenging part of their journey, we are taking a moment to pause to reflect on how it’s going.

Last week we held an energising roundtable discussion with our cohort members to find out more about their experience to date. We learned that evaluation is easier when funders and providers can agree on what evidence is most useful and how it should be gathered. The feedback we received indicated that the Cohort Model has the potential to deliver this aim and members are enthusiastic about developing it further.

But these are, of course, early days and we’re still in the process of honing our approach. Eventually, we hope to expand our reach by rolling out several more cohorts simultaneously in areas such as youth justice and education. In preparation for this, we plan to launch a set of ‘Cohort Commitments’ outlining the specific expectations and aims we have around each Cohort and what they can expect from us in return. The broad categories for these commitments are ‘participate’, ‘collaborate’, ‘communicate’ and ‘lead’ – the principles on which the Cohort Model is founded.

The next milestone will be the completion of their evaluations, which we look forward to sharing alongside further insights into the process itself. We’re delighted, too, that AND are helping us spread the word about the aims and achievements of the Cohort. In the meantime, there is still potential to be involved in this or a future Cohort.

Contact us or visit our website if you’d like to know more.


If you like this blog, have a read of 'The beauty of behaviour indicators'