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The trick to funding prevention work

This opinion piece is almost 10 years old

Steven Marwick, director of Evaluation Support Scotland, is challenging the Big Lottery Fund to focus on positive stories

Steven Marwick, director, Evaluation Support Scotland
Steven Marwick, director, Evaluation Support Scotland

Prevention. It’s a tricky one! How does a funder fund something not to happen? How does a grant-holder report on what did not take place?!

Here are three lessons from our work with funders and third sector that might help.

Flip the negative. With prevention we talk in terms of fewer bad things: reduced crime, fewer hospital admissions. But it’s better and easier to focus on more good stuff. Involving young people from tough backgrounds in sport to get them healthy and motivated might reduce anti-social behaviour. But a healthy, motivated young person is a good thing in itself. Isn’t that enough?

Show connections. We can show the link between more good stuff and prevention. We can build a story of change showing how, for example, an older person who is connected to her community or more steady on her feet is less likely to go into hospital.

Remember immediate needs. For example, if mum’s top concern is paying her rent right now, then let’s help her sort her finances first before enrolling her in a parenting class.

So my challenges to the Big Lottery Fund are:

  • Fund more good stuff. Stuff that connects people to each other, helps them cope with change and creates opportunities for fun
  • Use your intelligence (from your policy experience and the evidence in thousands of grant reports) to show how good things do connect to prevention
  • Continue funding activities to address the needs people have right now

Steven Marwick is director of Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS). ESS works with voluntary organisations and funders so they can measure and report on their impact and use learning to improve policy and practice.

This blog was originally posted as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Your Voice, Our Vision consultation process.