NDTi logoA lack of robust evidence into the value of independent advocacy is leaving it in a potentially vulnerable position, according to a new report.

A scoping review of 83 articles, reports and other documents from the UK and Ireland from 1990 on the difference advocacy makes, completed by the National Development Team for Inclusion, found an overwhelming lack of published, robust evidence on the impact of advocacy. This was the case especially regarding the cost-effectiveness of advocacy. 

The three main problems with evidence published about the impact of advocacy were:

A reliance on individual stories and anecdotes without analysing common themes

A reliance on people’s views rather than empirical evidence

No consistent basis for assessing the evidence of advocacy’s impact.

Rob Greig, chief executive of the NDTi, said: “Ensuring the voice of people who use social care services is heard is vital if they are to be supported to live full and inclusive lives.

“Advocacy plays a significant role in this, and we know there are a huge number of positive stories about the difference advocacy makes in people’s lives.

“In a few studies, there is evidence about the positive difference which advocacy makes. But our work shows that that more needs to be done to develop an independent, robust evidence base so that the future of advocacy can be secured at a time when there’s a downward trend in the funding advocacy organisations receive.”

Some ‘grey’ literature – produced, for example, by advocacy providers – conveys the difference independent advocacy can make to people who use it. But these materials have generally not been independently or robustly verified. As a result, it is difficult to judge the difference advocacy makes on people’s lives, local services or local and national policy.

Where rigorous evidence exists, it is positive about the impact of advocacy. For example, a cost-benefit analysis undertaken by London School of Economics of advocacy when the children of parents with learning disabilities are subject to child safeguarding procedures showed a return on investment for the public sector of £2 for every £1 invested.

“It would be wrong to conclude from this report that the evidence says advocacy either doesn’t have a positive impact or is not cost-effective,” Greig added. “It could well be a highly effective, cost efficient way of using public money. 

“What this work does show is there is a lack of robust research and evidence to enable conclusions to be drawn either way.

“If we are serious about advocacy and using public money well, then commissioners, advocacy providers and research funders need to work together to generate robust evidence of advocacy’s impact.”