ARC Project profile: STRIDE

We caught up with Liam O’Hare, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Effective Education, Queen’s University Belfast, and part of STRIDE Consultants, STRIDE supports corporate organisations in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work by helping them design and evaluate social impact programmes.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

I started out with a PhD in psychology and moved into education about 15 years ago when I joined the Centre for Effective Education at Queen’s University Belfast. We were involved in a lot of social programme evaluation and development work in disadvantaged communities nationally and internationally. We had particular recognition for our expertise conducting randomised controlled trial (RCT) evaluations of social programmes. 

Social impact programmes are basically evidence based programmes designed to be delivered to children, young people and their families either in school, community or health settings. These programmes have specific activities and defined outcomes. Overall, they aim to improve such things as social behaviour, academic achievement and employment outcomes.

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

STRIDE supports corporate organisations in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work by helping them design and evaluate social impact programmes. We can ensure social programmes delivered by and invested in by companies are evidence based in their design and rigorously evaluated to check they have improved outcomes and created social impact.

The problem is, the development of social programmes don’t get enough thought from the outset. They are often not evidence based in their design. Understanding social science theory and evidence is a crucial first step to ensuring successful impact of social programmes. Also, context is very important, considering where these programmes are being delivered and who is participating are also important issues that evidence can help inform. Finally, social programmes are often not evaluated well. Very often efficiency and outputs are prioritised i.e., how many people attended rather than effectiveness on outcomes, i.e., whether anybody actually benefited from the programme.

“Ultimately, it’s more important to measure the outcomes and impact of social programmes, rather than the outputs, or how many people attended.”

Liam O’Hare, STRIDE

Because some programmes can be very well attended, but despite that, these programmes can have null or even negative effects on people. So you can see that if you don’t get these programmes right, they can actually cause more harm than good, which is a big problem.

Q: What’s your ultimate vision for STRIDE?

The overarching goal is to increase the amount of funding flowing from business and corporations into well designed and evaluated social programmes. It’s often difficult to get access to funding for quality evidence based programmes. Yet there is increasing interest from companies in their corporate social responsibility and impact investment strategies. If STRIDE can act as a connector between quality evidence based social programmes and the ESG and CSR world, then we think that is the best way to collectively ensure positive social impact

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

I knew that our voice was needed to tell the story of how to use evidence to create positive social impact as well as share our expertise from researching social impact programmes but I didn’t really know how to enter the corporate world with that story. ARC has been very helpful for us to understand and access the thinking within corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental social governance (ESG) context.

I’ve definitely been enjoying my experience. There’s good mentoring, good talks and an excellent focused network.  Discussions with peers in my cohort are also very helpful. We are all on the frontier of commercialising social science research and it has been great to support and learn from each others’ experiences along the way.

You can find all the project profiles from the ARC Accelerator here

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

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