In the years since the Campaign to End Loneliness was first launched we have worked hard, with our partners and supporters, to get the message out about the prevalence of loneliness in the UK, to demonstrate its damaging effects on our health, and to encourage local authorities and charities to take action on the issue. But we know that there is more to do to help those who have decided to do something to help lonely people to decide exactly what they should do next.
Funders and commissioners like to know ‘what works?’, but answering this question is not simple. We know there are many different services and interventions working with lonely older people in communities throughout the UK. We also know that many of these are doing excellent work, and some of them have evaluation evidence to prove it. However, because there is no standard method of evaluating the impact of services on levels of loneliness, it is not easy to compare interventions and decide which are operating the best – or which will be most likely to work in a given set of circumstances.
This also means that many of those who are doing excellent work to combat loneliness struggle to demonstrate this to their funders, and also face challenges in working out how they might be able to improve their impact.
In response to feedback from our supporters that they would appreciate help with this issue, the Campaign undertook some scoping work to examine how service providers were already measuring their impact, the reasons why some don’t, or find it difficult to measure their impact, and how we might help to improve the assessment of loneliness interventions.
The first challenge we came across was what to measure and how. Often the models most favoured by academics are not seen as practical by those working directly with lonely people. A loneliness measure which works well when trying to assess the extent of the problem in a large population does not always translate well to a front line situation. For example, a volunteer-based befriending scheme working with less than 50 adults is unlikely to have the time to ask their users 12 questions about their emotional state on a regular basis. When making initial contact with a vulnerable older person many feel it is not appropriate to ask them lots of searching personal questions while also trying to build trust.
Our report explores the various measurement models and assessments currently in use, as well as the perspectives of service funders, commissioners and providers working on the front line. It found that there is a demand to find a better, more practical way to measure what works to reduce loneliness. There is also an appetite for measurement to support service improvement. No one wanted measurement for measurement’s sake, and this was as true for funders as it was for service providers.
The Campaign is now looking to build from this starting point, to enable the development of a new measurement tool which we hope will help those working with older people to demonstrate their success in tackling loneliness.
If you would like to hear more about this project, or the wider work of the Campaign to End Loneliness, sign up to become a supporter here.
If you would like to tell us more about what you are doing to measure your impact, please email us.
The full report on measuring impact as well as all other Campaign to End Loneliness publications can be found here.