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30.05.20152Since July, 2013 an Equilibrium team supported administratively by Open society Club – Ruse and given technical support by Professor Tony Ghaye from the UK and Dr. Vesselina  Bossilkova from Bulgaria has been engaged with the question of how to improve the evaluation of services for children and families.

The project was formally named External / Self -evaluation in Childcare & Family-Support Services as a Means of Capacity-building and was supported by generous funding provided by the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme.

Very few commentators are likely to disagree that the quality of social services is determined by their impact on the life and well-being of beneficiaries. However, this impact is difficult to identify – the relationship between professional interventions and changes in beneficiaries is seldom direct and straightforward. Services are provided in the community – a complex operating environment with numerous variables that can affect the delivery of services. Thus, however desirable they may be, attempts at evaluating services on the basis of their impact are fraught with difficulty. Our extensive desk research revealed barriers encountered in other countries.

This does not mean they should not take place.

Undeterred, we wanted to explore the possibility for government inspectors to do more than simply check services on the basis of minimum standards. How can they help motivate service providers to pursue excellence? How can they contribute to developing and sustaining an improvement culture?

A positive oriented technique called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has gained considerable credibility in other countries as a tool for decision-making and organizational development. Could it be adapted to allow inspectors to compile information that helps profile a service on the basis of their successes?

In truth, inspectors would find it very difficult to undertake extensive interviews or to host focus groups covering service providers, their clients, working partners and other community stakeholders so as to use AI to explore the success of any service. It is time-consuming and would be a drain on resources.

Can service providers do anything so as to self-evaluate and present their work rather than remaining largely passive as inspectors pursued information? We believe they can.

Equilibrium’s publication under the project briefly defines our Curatorship Model tested and refined in 4 very different centres of social support and demonstrated intwo more centres. Service providers should use techniques that resemble the way curators stage events that place their exhibits in meaningful contexts that demonstrate their public value. Service providers are encouraged to continuously analyze in a way that identifies key components of success and draws on extensive feedback from clients using innovative, informal methods that avoid the use of formal data collection techniques that are not really suitable for children or vulnerable adults.

Additionally, we have provided a list of “organizational habits that suggest quality” and tips on how inspectors can look for and recognize these characteristics.

The report “Evaluation of Childcare & Family Support Services focusing on the Impact on Beneficiaries: Inherent Difficulties, Ethics, Key Principles, Suggested Approaches and a Selection of Related Tools” was launched on 30th March at an event hosted by the British Council in Sofia. The audience included representatives of the service sector and those bodies responsible for service inspection – the State Agency for Child Protection and the Inspectorate of the Agency of Social Assistance.

Our presentation was well received and we hope to create popular support for a new style of cooperation between service providers and inspectors that is client oriented and focused on the pursuit of quality.