Research Case Study

Catalyst Project - Improving community services for vulnerable people

We’re helping Essex County Council and Suffolk County Council use cutting-edge technology to predict risk and target services for vulnerable people. 

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    Economy, business, politics and society
    Health and wellbeing

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Wednesday 26 June 2019 Interactive workshops on risk prediction through data analysis, effectively evaluating public services. Panels of experts discussing data science and its impact for local government and best practices for legal, ethical and effective data sharing. 

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When it comes to providing services for the most vulnerable people in society, the goal is better prevention and early intervention, rather than later reaction. We’re helping Essex County Council and Suffolk County Council use cutting-edge technology to predict risk and target their efforts with a project called Catalyst which has received £2.2 million funding from HEFCE.

Our expertise in data analytics, big data and evaluation will be applied to assess risks and evaluate the impact and effectiveness of initiatives undertaken by the two councils, which serve a combined population of 2.5 million people.

We’re also establishing a community volunteering hub to strengthen our links with the local community and increase our volunteering activity.

"Our ongoing partnership with the University of Essex puts us at the forefront of local authorities seeking innovative solutions to the challenges we face."

The three-year project will deliver four initiatives:

Identifying ‘at risk’ children and adults

Essex Partners has developed a Risk Stratification Tool as part of their Transformation Challenge Award and Suffolk County Council are adopting predictive modelling as part of their Suffolk 2020 strategy. Our expertise will help them specify the most appropriate data sets applying analytics and evaluation methodologies to enable earlier identification of 'at risk' children and adults.

This work will give people quicker access to the help they need and help to promote community resilience. Earlier intervention can give people greater independence from public services and increased control over their own lives, helping to promote community resilience.

Some of the projects we are working on include:

  • Pupil premium payments

Data analysis to identify families eligible for free school meals and schools eligible for resultant pupil premium payments, to enable release of this additional funding stream.

  • School readiness
  • Trading Standards - mass media scams
  • Children at risk of going into care
  • Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)
  • NEET (not in education, employment or training)

Delivering insight into the key attributes and characteristics, and profile of individuals likely to be at risk. The improved intelligence will support earlier engagement and intervention, better targeting of services and delivery of cost savings.

  • Schools sustainability

Analysis of data to identify the factors that contribute to schools being at risk of closure, to enable appropriate action to be taken


  • Team members:
    Andrei Toderas, Research analyst, Department of Mathematical Sciences
    Rosie Burrells, Research analyst, Department of Mathematical Sciences
  • Partners:
    Essex Partners
    Suffolk County Council Commissioning, Children and Young People
    Essex Police

Evaluating the impact of public services

We support local authorities develop robust, credible evaluation metrics and tools to conduct evaluations of past and future projects. We are also developing an Impact Evaluation Tool for local governments seeking to streamline their impact evaluation practices and understand the broader impact of public services for vulnerable people.

Robust evaluation of public service effectiveness helps councils target areas with the highest impact potential and shift resources from reaction to prevention.

We have been involved in evaluating or supporting the following programmes:

  • Evaluation of Parish Safety Volunteers and accidental dwelling fires, Essex County Fire & Rescue Service
  • Evaluation of the Local Area Coordinator programme, Suffolk County Council
  • Evaluation of the LifeLinks Social Prescription programme, Haverhill, West Suffolk
  • Evaluation methods training and capacity building for Dementia Challenge Prize applicants, Essex County Council
  • Evaluation of the data collection and programme evaluation methods, Red Balloon Foundation
  • Evaluation of the Transformation Challenge Award Programme and its component projects, Essex Partners
  • Evaluation of the Daily Mile, Thurrock Council
  • Evaluation of educational outreach, Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse in Essex (CARA)

We are also participating in the following initiatives:

  • Organisers of a special interest workshop on Disasters, Emergency Management, and Politics at the Southern Political Science Association Conference, New Orleans
  • Creation and coordination of the Disaster and Emergency Research Network (DERN)
  • Co-organisers of a workshop on Emergency Management, Disaster and Policy at the International Public Policy Association Conference, Pittsburgh



    • Essex Partners
    • Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse in Essex (CARA)
    • Suffolk County Council
    • West Suffolk Forest Heath & St Edmundsbury Councils - Families and Communities Programme
    • Essex County Fire and Rescue Service
    • Red Balloon Family Foundation
    • Thurrock Council

    Mapping the assets within a community

    Communities have many ‘social assets’ already – social groups and peoples’ skills and time. We’ll work with the councils to assess the value of these assets and identify how they can be used to their full potential. Planning, resource allocation and coordination will all be improved.


    • Partners:
      Essex County Council: Strengthening Communities Programme
      Suffolk County Council

    Community volunteering hub

    We’re establishing a volunteering hub within our University that will:

    • increase the amount of community volunteering undertaken by Essex students, encouraging them to take action and tackle social issues and develop new transferable skills
    • enhance the relationship between us, our local communities and local voluntary sector partners
    • raise the profile of the University by highlighting volunteering achievements

    Working group

    • Team members:
      Susan Stedman, Employer Services Manager, Employability and Careers Centre
      Shaun Conlon, Sports Development Officer, Sports Volunteering
      Smaranda Sava, Volunteering Coordinator
      Tomas Kasiulis, Volunteering Coordinator
      Keith Rowland, Deputy Director of Engagement and Development, Students' Union
    • Partners:
      Students' Union VTeam
      Royal Opera House Bridge
      Community 360
      Essex County Council: Strengthening Communities Programme
      Suffolk County Council


    Young Colchester: Life Chances, Assets and Anti-Social Behaviour

    Young Colchester: Life Chances, Assets and Anti-Social Behaviour' written by Professor Pam Cox et al was launched at the Essex Youth Services in Colchester (7 November 2018).  The report is just one of the current initiatives being carried out by the Catalyst Project.  

    Download the report

    Benefits for local communities

    • Improved health and wellbeing of individuals.
    • Quicker access to the help people need.
    • Communities are empowered to support themselves.
    • Greater family stability and resilience.
    • Greater independence from statutory services and control over their own lives.
    • More personalised interactions.
    • Increased community resilience.
    • Faster resolution to issues.

    Benefits for councils and their partners


    • Ability to identify and predict risk and need earlier, leading to improved and earlier intervention, improved resource allocation, better commissioning and planning.
    • Significantly improved data, information and intelligence sharing amongst partners.
    • Improved outcomes and reduced cost in delivering services to citizens.
    • Enabling resources to be better targeted and shifted from reaction to prevention.
    • Ability to make more timely and informed decisions.
    • Improved community capacity and resilience and better community engagement.
    • A map of community assets will improve planning, resource allocation and coordination.
    • Wider impact on local areas by enabling more people to participate in their community, gain employment and increase their voluntary activity.


    Benefits for our research

    • Research impact through the delivery of training, dissemination events and media, for local authorities targeted at improving commission.
    • Increasing our research profile within the academic community through the dissemination of papers and journal articles.
    • Application of Big Data/data analytics involving researchers in the BLG Data Research Centre.

    Benefits for our students


    • Community partners as co-educators - by working together with communities and partners our students will have the opportunity to learn and develop their softer skills in ways the classroom cannot provide.
    • Students as ‘active citizens’ – encouraging our students to take action and use their time to support communities and tackle social issues; students’ using their passion, talents, skills, ideas and experiences and capacity to lead successful change is an embodiment of our ‘We are Essex’ philosophy.
    • Increasing community volunteering will improve our graduates’ employability through providing a diverse range of work-related experience and stimulating critical thinking and problem solving skills.


    Get in touch
    Dr Beate Knight Senior Project Manager
    Telephone: 01206 872057
    Melissa Brisley/Judith Knight Project Support Officer
    Telephone: 01206 873443/876007

    HEFCE have awarded £2.2 million catalyst funding for this project. The project is also funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).


    Logos of Essex County Council, Suffolk County Council, HEFCE, CCVS, ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre and VTeam