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Guest Blog: Bringing program evaluations to life

First Step’s Road Home project helps people living in crisis accommodation by providing mental health, medical and legal services where they are, and when they need it the most. This three-year pilot is in partnership with Launch Housing and is being independently evaluated by the LDC Group

Anne Smyth and Lesley Thornton from the LDC Group are our guest contributors in this edition of Connections and share the value of group reflective practice.

Group Reflective Practice: bringing the evaluation of programs to life
Group reflective practice is the collaborative examination and evaluation of shared experiences. The LDC Group evaluators for the Road Home Project, alongside First Step and Launch Housing are doing just that.

We are showing how powerful reflective practice is in building a strong and engaged multidisciplinary team to deliver and evaluate mental health, medical, legal and housing services to people in crisis accommodation, when and where they need it the most. The regular team reflective practice meetings facilitated by the evaluators have provided progressive learning and qualitative insights that allow us to refine the program as it unfolds, identify what enables it to work effectively, what gets in the way and articulate its value and impact for clients – information central to the project’s developmental evaluation methodology(1).

Client and staff stories: the benefits of reflective practice
The client stories that are at the core of reflective practice speak to people and organisations that fund programs in a way that statistics and activity data on their own (however relevant and important) do not.

This is especially valuable when we are dealing with small numbers and complex clients. Road Home clients are in crisis, vulnerable, have experienced considerable trauma and are often only able to access housing support for a limited time. They need services that are highly responsive, flexible, and collaborative. To provide this type of support staff need to understand the impact of context, including clients’ presenting circumstances, the complexities and different constraints staff across all disciplines are navigating and how they interact.

How reflective practice works for Road Home
Reflective practice provides a safe space for team members from different disciplines with diverse perspectives to share client stories and explore them in more depth. This helps us to understand what is distinctive about the Road Home approach, what kind of impact it is having and why. Importantly, team members learn from each other’s expertise and practice approaches. They share how the much-needed support they provide to each other benefits their clients and themselves. This work also enables the team to design tailored strategies for clients and deal with system barriers. They have repeatedly said how important these meetings have been in building mutual understanding and trust - essential commodities for collaborative work.

Why we need to include reflective practice in evaluations?
Reflective practice(2) is not a common feature of program evaluations. Paying attention to the staff experience of working with the clients, as well as client’s complex needs and strengths, provides a much more nuanced and honest account of what it takes to deliver service and achieve needed outcomes.

This has helped us articulate the value of the Road Home’s integrated, multidisciplinary way of working for clients and staff compared to the conventional, single discipline outreach and in-reach approaches that characterises service delivery in the community and housing sectors.

Reflective practice is by no means the only evaluation method we are using but it is the richest and the most revealing of the factors that distinguish Road Home from the way we typically provide services.

It is now Year 3 – and with a further site added recently we are reminded of where we started, program development takes time. The developmental evaluation approach enables us to progressively build the evidence base for the Road Home program as we go. Reflective practice is proving to be a compelling contribution to this.

About the LDC Group
Anne and Lesley have undertaken many evaluations drawing on their considerable knowledge of and experience in the community sector. Evaluating programs and services is one of the ways in which LDC Group assists organisations to strengthen their contribution and impact. Their approach is collaborative, supportive and inquiry-based and they bring a powerful blend of theory, evidence, and practical know-how to the work. Their innovative application of action learning and reflective practice, especially in developmental evaluations helps produce positive and enduring outcomes.


(1) A Developmental Evaluation Primer Jamie A.A. Gamble The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, 2008
(2) Action reflection learning: a learning methodology based on common sense
Isabel Rimanoczy, Vol. 39 no. 1 2007, pp. 43-51, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, UK Industrial and Commercial Training, page 43 – 51


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