We report on two evaluability assessments (EAs) of social prescribing (SP) services in South East England conducted in 2016/7. We aimed to demonstrate how EAs can be used to assess whether a programme is ready to be evaluated for outcomes, what changes would be needed to do so and whether the evaluation would contribute to improved programme performance. We also aimed to draw out the lessons learned through the EA process and consider how these can inform the design and evaluation of SP schemes. EAs followed the steps described by Wholey, New Dir Eval 33:77, (1987) and Leviton et al., Annu Rev Public Health 31:213, (2010), including collaboration with stakeholders, elaboration, testing and refinement of an agreed programme theory, understanding the programme reality, identification and review of existing data sources and assessment against key criteria. As a result, evaluation of the services was not recommended. Necessary changes to allow for future evaluation include gaining access to electronic patient records, establishing procedures for collection of baseline and outcome data and linking to data on use of other healthcare services. Lessons learned include ensuring that: (a) SP schemes are developed with involvement (and buy in) of relevant stakeholders; (b) information governance and data sharing agreements are in place from the start; (c) staffing levels are sufficient to cover the range of activities involved in service delivery, data monitoring, reporting, evaluation and communication with stakeholders; (d) SP schemes are co-located with primary care services; and (e) referral pathways and linkages to health service data systems are established as part of the programme design. We conclude that EA provides a valuable tool for informing the design and evaluation of SP schemes. EA can help commissioners to make best use of limited evaluation resources and prioritise which programmes need to be evaluated, as well as how, why and when.
Keywords: commissioning; community referral; evaluability assessment; evaluation; linking schemes; social prescribing.
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