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Provider: Pro Bono Economics

  • London


Sector experience:

Areas of expertise:

Organisation overview:

Pro Bono Economics was set up in 2009 to help social ventures (charities, social enterprises
and other non-profits supporting social impact) to understand and improve the impact and
value of their work through high quality yet low cost consultancy. Since then, we have
engaged with over 300 organisations on data advice, economic analyses of interventions
and research to support advocacy and campaigns. As well as providing social ventures with
much needed skills and expertise, PBE provides skills-based volunteering opportunities and
has attracted 500 volunteers who are professional economists from the public and private
sectors and academia.

Our strategy going forward is to use our knowledge to change the debate and practice
about social impact using the unique insights we have gained from individual projects. We
will achieve this through a rolling focus on selected issues and sectors, chosen to reflect the
value we can add through our knowledge of economics, our experience and our networks.
For 2017-2022, we have chosen a central focus on wellbeing, supported by strands of work
in: 1. Education; 2. Employment; 3. Mental health and Resilience; 4. Complex needs (which
covers people living at the edge of communities who are vulnerable to homelessness,
addition and debt).

Through our experience and deep understanding of the sector, we drive best practice and
influence debate through key activities:
• Individual studies for social ventures operating in our four focus areas. Our projects are
effectively scoped and based on an organisation’s needs;
• Supporting individual social
ventures to achieve organisational aims and objectives based on the findings from their PBE
report, for example public recognition of the value of their work/scale of a problem,
attracting social investment, making an appeal to commissioners;
• Synthesising our large body of work to knowledge share and provide thought leadership for the sector (e.g. guides
and toolkits);
• Share and develop our knowledge through key partnerships (examples: we
have commenced a three-year partnership with Power to Change, an endowment fund
focused on reviving community business in the UK; we are partnering with Jump Projects
and the Centre for Social Justice on interventions related to sport; we have partnered with
Chicago Booth to deliver thought leadership events, establish a PBE “fellow” focused on
project synthesis and research and are working with university’s social investment and
innovation hub);
• Share findings from our wider work with policymakers and
With a view to: • Advocate to ensure policy, practice and legislation in our four core areas
of focus are evidence-based and lead to meaningful and measurable impact.

Case study 1: British Science Association


Focus of project:

  • Developing impact plans
  • Performance management
  • Data management & analysis
  • Building impact measurement tools
  • Reviewing external evidence

PBE conducted an economic evaluation of the impact of British Science Association’s Silver CREST science award programme. The study looked at the impact of CREST on academic attainment at GCSE level and on students going on to choose STEM subjects at A-Level. PBE helped BSA to understand the typical characteristics of CREST students by comparing a control group with the National Pupil Database. CREST students were less likely to be Free School Meal (FSM) pupils or pupils with disabilities. As a result of these findings, BSA has developed a bespoke package of support for schools with a greater range of learning abilities and backgrounds. PBE’s study showed that from a sample size of 3.4 million (2.4 million at Key Stage 4 and 1.0 million at Key Stage 5), on average, students achieve half a grade higher in their best GCSE STEM result due to participating in CREST. FSM pupils saw an even greater improvement. PBE’s study showed that 82% of CREST students took a STEM AS level compared to 68% of a statistically matched control group. BSA has since attracted Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funding for a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) looking at the benefits of CREST due to PBE’s study.

Case study 2: St Giles Trust


  • Citizenship & community

Focus of project:

  • Developing impact plans
  • Data management & analysis
  • Leadership development
  • Building impact measurement tools
  • Reviewing external evidence

PBE conducted a cost benefit analysis for St Giles Trust, looking at the benefit to the public of the charity’s “Through the Gates” programme (“Through the Gates” – support services, often using ex-offenders as counsellors for recent prison leavers, accommodation support and general support with reintegration). PBE estimated the public benefit of the programme to be at least £10 for every £1 invested. “Through the Gates” clients’ reoffending rates were found to be 40% lower than the national re-offending rate. Based on PBE’s estimates, the annual cost savings caused by “Through the Gates” ranges from £10.4m to £34.5m (the cost of running “Through the Gates” for 12 months was valued at £1.05 million). The project enabled St Giles Trust to apply to take part in the world’s first ever social impact bond looking at the impact of interventions aimed at reintegrating prison leavers into society. Their bid was successful, and PBE’s report served as strong evidence for social investment into the charity’s programme. As a result of this, the charity significantly scaled up the intervention, which has now been adopted into the mainstream with regards to interventions supporting prison leavers in the UK. PBE supported the charity to understand and manipulate its own data, as well as that which is publicly available (e.g. the MoJ Justice Data Lab).

Case study 3: SHINE Trust


  • Employment, training & education

Focus of project:

  • Developing impact plans
  • Data management & analysis
  • Building impact measurement tools
  • Reviewing external evidence

PBE undertook a scoping assessment of the impact of SHINE Trust’s Saturday School programme. The scoping report looked at the feasibility of conducting a full economic impact analysis of the programme. The study identified that the greatest benefit of SHINE on Saturday to pupils was improvements in non-cognitive skills ('non-cognitive skills' refers to a set of attitudes, behaviours, and strategies that are thought to underpin success in school and at work, such as motivation, perseverance, and self-control). A small pilot study from one London school showed that on average, the intervention improved KS2 results by 0.22 of one level, in comparison to pupils that did not attend the programme. It is estimated that these pupils would have gone on to gain 1.4 additional GCSEs at A* - C grades. Based on research conducted by the Department for Education, this can be translated into an improvement in economic productivity (in the form of greater lifetime earnings) of approximately £6.3 million across all pupils who had received the programme at this school from 2005/2006 to 2013/2014. PBE’s report for SHINE provides a straight forward blueprint for more extensive evaluation across London schools implementing SHINE. The report enlightened SHINE as to the economic benefits of improving pupils’ non-cognitive skills; that these skills appear to generate a lasting impact in terms of academic performance and subsequent labour market outcomes.