Exploring the Potential of Shadow Controls in the Evaluation of Children’s Services

Axford, Nick and Berry, Vashti Louise (2005) Exploring the Potential of Shadow Controls in the Evaluation of Children’s Services. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8 (5). pp. 389-404. ISSN 1364-5579

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13645570500402462


This article describes and presents a framework for an under‐used evaluation technique in the context of an evaluation of a programme for disaffected young people. Shadow controls—the use of expert judgement to estimate the success of a programme—are often dismissed in research design as an unreliable form of comparison, but can be useful in situations where there is limited scope for a control group or to enhance the causal inference attributable to non‐experimental evaluations. The exercise described uses a practice tool as a structure for making predictions about the situations of the young people on the programme, assuming they do not receive an intervention. These predictions (shadow controls) are then compared to outcome data for the young people at the end of the programme. The results of the exercise provide some important messages about the programme’s effectiveness and the potential for strengthening non‐experimental evaluation methods. The article also discusses how the method can usefully inform evaluations of social programmes and encourage agency and user collaboration.

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