What is a Standard of Proof in Social Work and why do NGOs need one?
A new ‘Standard of Proof in Social Work’ has been drawn up to improve the professionalism of NGOs. It was unveiled at the second All-Russian Conference entitled ‘Joining forces to support and protect children: Uniting the expertise and responsibilities of NGOs.’
The new Standard was produced in 2018 by the Multi-disciplinary Professional Union known as ‘Evaluating Childhood Programmes’, together with the Charitable Foundation run by Elena and Gennady Timchenko and the Presidential Grants Foundation. The new Standard was developed using the results of a pilot project in 2018, in which 10 organisations described their working practices, and the standards of proof they used in their assessments were studied. Over the past the Timchenkos’ Foundation has been promoting the new Standard among government authorities, the scientific community and NGOs.
Elvira Garifulina, who runs the ‘Family and Children’ project for the Timchenkos’ Foundation, gave her comments on the new Standard: ‘Our evidence base is not simply a collection of numbers and data. It is information that works, not for others but for yourself.’
Tatyana Podushkina, a specialist at the Moscow State Psychological and Pedagogical University with responsibility for designing and implementing psychological support programmes for children and teenagers, noted that the key challenge lies in putting the new Standard into practice: ‘The Standard was developed because we needed to have a unified approach to evaluating evidence across the board. Currently we have a many innovative and effective ways of working within social services across the country but we are unable to compare the results and evaluate their efficacy.’
The Standard is divided into several sections, the largest being the section on methodology. It includes definitions of basic concepts in social care and approaches to understanding evidence. It has specific checklists and procedures that allow staff to verify their findings. ‘Social practice’ is broadly defined as all areas of work, including services and projects.
What does verifying social practice involve?
The first stage is a process of self-diagnosis. The NGO completes a form with 60 questions with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. On the basis of these responses the NGO decides whether it should review its working practices.
The second stage involves writing a detailed description of the NGO’s practices, including an assessment of collaborative working between different teams and an analysis of the way the company functions and collects scientific evidence and documentation.
In the final stage, the organisation grades each of its activities as advanced, standard or elementary. It is possible at a later stage for the NGO to ‘upgrade’ its assessments.
The project ‘Save the Family for the Child’ underwent the verification process and had its performance upgraded from elementary to standard. The project is run ‘Aistyonok’, a charity based in Yekaterinburg which seeks to tackle the root causes of social orphans. Aistyonok’s spokeswoman, Alla Osipova, commented on the process: ‘It took around three months. We took part in webinars, we discussed various issues within our team and we worked with the mentor who was allocated to us. It was an intense and productive process.’
Experts have recognised the complexity of the programme Aistyonok undertook in evaluating its working practices, which included its report ‘A social portrait of women in difficult circumstances, across the 27 regions of Russia’.
Why do we need it?
Tatyana Podushkina believes that one of the many barriers to raising standards in social work is the fragmentation of Russian science and working practices. She noted: ‘Social service providers often fail to keep up with the latest findings of scientific research.’
Next year the Timchenkos’ foundation plans to organise a competition to encourage NGOs to join the register of social services providers that have been shown to be effective. Garifulina explained: ‘It will also make it easier for NGOs to apply for grants without having to provide additional proof.’
Experts agree that by complying with the new Standard NGOs will have a better understanding of how to evaluate the effectiveness of their working practices and it will help them to train specialists in this area in the future.
Click here – на сайте Мастерской управления – for a transcript of the conference proceedings on the skills management website ‘Senezh’.