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  • FCR article Broadhurst and Wiiliams_Final_Jan2019

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Harnessing the Power of Data to Improve Family Justice: A New Nuffield Family Justice Observatory For England and Wales

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/07/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Family Court Review
Issue number3
Volume57
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)405-413
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

A pilot Family Justice Observatory for England and Wales is being launched in Spring 2019. Its overarching aim is to address concerns about the limited and uncertain place of empirical evidence in the family justice system. The Observatory will focus on providing intelligence about how the system is working, especially through the accelerated use of electronic population level data on family justice cases. Drawing on collaborative relationships between data providers and users, as well as policy and practice colleagues, the Observatory will improve collective understanding of the needs of children and families and how they are met by the family justice system. I liken the present situation to one where an individual who is learning to become a proficient darts player is instructed to throw the darts behind him, over his shoulder, without any sight of the dart board and without anyone telling him whether he had even hit the wall, let alone the board or the bulls eye. (Lord Justice McFarlane, 2017, p.18). This article provides readers with an introduction to an important new innovation in England and Wales, which is the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. Currently under development, the new Observatory will be launched as a pilot in the spring of 2019 (Broadhurst, Budd, & Williams, 2018b). The overarching aim of the new Observatory will be to support the best possible decisions for children by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales. Its development and pilot phase are being funded by the Nuffield Foundation, a private charitable trust whose mission is to advance social well‐being, including through facilitating evidence‐based change within the justice system. The Foundation's decision to invest in this new initiative is based on long‐standing concerns that research evidence has a limited and uncertain influence on family justice policy and practice (Genn, Partington, & Wheeler, 2006; Rodgers, Trinder, & Williams, 2015), yet the decisions that are made in the family courts have a lifelong effect on children and their families. In common with a number of comparable international jurisdictions, valuable national data produced routinely by organizations (administrative data) are insufficiently exploited by researchers and analysts, and even when high‐quality research evidence has been produced, it does not readily influence the front line (Jay, Woodman, Broadhurst, & Gilbert, 2017). The vision for the new Observatory is that it will be a collaborative project: researchers, analysts, policy makers, frontline practitioners, and organizations representing children and families will work together to identify priority issues for new data analysis or evidence synthesis; they will have access to, and help interpret, new data analyses and reviews of high‐quality research; and they will coproduce protocols and guidance to inform practice. Following the launch of the pilot, this range of functions will be tested to establish the impact on the family justice system. In this article, we introduce this important Nuffield initiative and describe the background to this project. We then summarize important insights from a scoping study commissioned by the Foundation to inform the remit and design of the new Observatory (Broadhurst et al., 2017b). The final sections of the report outline the vision for the new Observatory and provide a detailed overview of the program of work, already underway, to create access to and build capability in the use of large‐scale controlled administrative data. The role that the new Observatory will play to harness the potential of population‐level data is potentially groundbreaking given that the field of family justice has not, thus far, been central to national or international initiatives to accelerate the use of administrative data. It holds out the promise of effecting step‐change in the generation of better intelligence about how the family justice system is working, in the context of pressing concerns about both transparency and effectiveness of family justice policy and practice.