An Evaluation of the Social Navigator Project
Evaluation in progress. Expected completion date June 2024.
What does the research mean for Local Authorities?
The findings of the evaluation will provide South Tyneside commissioners with an understanding of the impact of Social Navigators. Insights into the impact of this service on financial stability and the health and social wellbeing of clients accessing the service, will inform the future development and recommissioning of the service. The evaluation will also make recommendations for how to apply and adapt this approach to other local authorities.
What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?
Financial difficulties are a common cause of stress and anxiety and drastically reduce recovery rates from common mental health conditions. The impact on mental and physical health can be particularly severe if people resort to cutting back on essentials, such as heating and eating. Social Navigators in South Tyneside work with service users to identify and address underlying causes of recurring financial hardship and instability. The research will help the further development and re-commissioning of the service and enable other local authorities to understand how best to manage financial hardship and instability for their residents.
How are the public involved in the project?
We conducted two workshops with stakeholders in South Tyneside to assess their understanding of how the Social Navigator service was intended to work, how it might lead to health outcomes and how it may be evaluated. Workshop participants included staff from South Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Homes, local third sector organisations, and public members who have engaged with the Social Navigators. We may invite someone with lived experience from South Tyneside to work with the research team across the evaluation period. As part of the interviews with service users, we will organise a small number of focus groups that will be facilitated by Social Navigators, who have built up trusting relationships with service users. This will improve the quality of responses and will build research capacity among Council and South Tyneside Homes staff. An end of project event will provide further opportunities for public members to shape the recommendations of the research and their dissemination.
Lay Summary of Research
Background to the research
Financial difficulties are a common cause of stress and anxiety and impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. The impact can be particularly severe if people have to cut back on essentials, such as heating and eating.
The Social Navigators in South Tyneside work with residents experiencing financial hardship to identify and address the underlying causes of their financial difficulties, such as social isolation, communication difficulties, lack of employment, difficulties accessing health and welfare services, and lack of practical skills, including cooking, home hygiene and selfcare.
Aims of the research
The research aims to explore and quantify (in money terms) the health and wellbeing impact of the Social Navigator project in South Tyneside. The findings of the evaluation will provide South Tyneside commissioners with an understanding of how Social Navigators impact on financial stability and the health and social wellbeing of clients accessing the service, informing the future development and recommissioning of the service. The evaluation will also make recommendations for how to apply and adapt this approach to other local authorities.
Design and methods used
To achieve these aims, we will review existing monitoring data on service users collected in South Tyneside between September 2022 and June 2023 to look at their engagement with the Social Navigators and other services, such as welfare support, social care and Citizens Advice. In particular, we will look at data on financial gains for residents and data on health and wellbeing impacts.
Next, we will conduct interviews with a sample of up to 15 service users to explore in more detail their views on how support from the Social Navigators benefits their health and wellbeing. We will also use the interviews to identify suitable and relevant indicators (measures for the presence or absence) of these impacts. For example, whether users have developed new social interactions with other people.
Based on our review of existing monitoring data and interviews with service users, we will calculate the financial value of any increases to the health and wellbeing of service users as a result of their support from Social Navigators. To do this, we will use existing financial outcome measures from the UK Social Value Bank. This bank brings together tried and tested outcome measures for the impact of services and programmes on people and communities. These outcomes have been developed using more than eight years of research and national data surveys which measure people’s actual experiences. This means that the values for each outcome are based on how they impact people’s lives as they live them.
We are developing a knowledge mobilisation plan with local stakeholders to get the research findings into policy and practice. We will disseminate the findings of the research through a final report with a lay summary, accessible briefs, blogs and potentially podcasts, which will be posted on the NIHR PHIRST website. We will also write papers for academic journals and present findings at academic and professional conferences with Social Navigators.
Sarah Lee, South Tyneside Homes
PHIRST Fusion Research Team
Dr Peter van der Graaf, Northumbria University
Dr Murali Subramanian, Newcastle University
Dr Bronia Arnott, Newcastle University
Dr Nai Rui Chng, University of Glasgow
Prof Angela Bates, Northumbria University
Prof Jo Gray, Northumbria University