The Dartington Social Research Unit (DSRU) has undergone a transformation. It is now operating as the Dartington Service Design Lab; see: This website is an archive of DSRU activity is no longer updated.

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Our work focuses on generating the data and evidence that decision-makers need in order to make informed decisions that will improve children’s outcomes across the education, health, social care and criminal justice systems.

Read More about: Data & Analytics, What Works, Service design, Place-based reform, Emerging streams & our Disseminating activities.

Data & Analytics

We put the best data on child well-being and the implementation of strategies and services into the hands of decision-makers to help them make better informed decisions.

We pull together existing data on child well-being and supplement it with state-of-the-art indicators of child well-being not typically available at the local level. We link this to data on service use to understand the degree to which existing services meet the needs of the local population. We do this by using our ChildrenCount surveys which have been completed by over 100,000 children and families to date.


We design and produce data systems and dashboards to monitor in real-time the implementation of services and strategies. This helps the people responsible for commissioning or delivering services to understand where implementation is on-track and where course-correction may be required. These systems create the potential for rapid-cycle testing and refinement of services.

We apply principles of information design to ensure that products are well-designed and powerfully visualised to foster meaningful contributions to decision-making.

What Works

We make information about ‘what works’ available in an easy-to-understand format through Investing in Children (IiC). This is an interactive online resource for commissioners and decision-makers.

IiC includes our highly-respected ‘what works’ Standards of Evidence (SoE) against which we assess whether something works to improve outcomes for children. Variations of these standards have been adopted or incorporated by the Early Intervention Foundation, NESTA, Project Oracle, the Graham Allen MP Review of Early Intervention and the US Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development database.


IiC also includes robust cost-benefit analysis. This provides information on the costs and benefits of various programmes and policies. We have translated for the UK the highly-respected cost-benefit model developed by Steve Aos and colleagues at the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

In addition to IiC, we also undertake high quality experimental evaluations (randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs) of emerging or innovative practice and rapid and systematic reviews of existing evidence on behalf of organisations such as Public Health England and the Early Intervention Foundation.

Service Design

We help charities, social enterprises and children’s service agencies design, test, adapt and refine services. We call this the journey from innovation to proven impact at scale.

Our approach to service design is unique - it draws heavily upon the science of child development and high quality evidence on need and ‘what works’. We support organisations to develop logic models that are informed and supported by the best available evidence. We help organisations to refine their activities and ensure that services are delivered to those that need them. We develop outcome monitoring tools, manuals and processes to support faithful delivery of the core components of a service – referred to as ‘fidelity’.


We appreciate that while science and evidence play an important and often neglected role in service design, for a service to be wanted and used by intended beneficiaries - as well as being replicable and scalable - the end users should play a central role in the design and testing.

Our approach to service design incorporates science, evidence and co-production. It emphasises knowing what is core and what is adaptable in order to design a service that not only works but that is also wanted, replicable and scalable.

Place-based Reform

We work in places to help leaders of public systems and communities work together to design and implement bold strategies designed to demonstrably improve child outcomes across a local authority area. 

Our approach - called Evidence2Success - creates governance structures in which leaders of public systems and communities are jointly accountable for child outcomes and investment decisions.


The framework incorporates mapping of resources within and across systems to identify 2% of expenditure to be re-invested in bold strategies - underpinned by robust data on need, the best available evidence of ‘what works’ and science-informed approaches to service design.

This approach, drawing on the Unit’s work with public systems over the last 20 years and forged out of a collaboration with The Annie E. Casey Foundation and developers of Communities that Care in the US, has been utilised by progressive local authorities and informed major philanthropic investments in the UK and US. 


Emerging Streams

We have recently turned our gaze to four areas where we believe we can do much better for children.

First, we feel it is time to look afresh at the role relationships play in the interaction between the helper, be that a volunteer or paid practitioner, and the helped. 

Second, we are drawing upon our in-depth understanding of public systems and knowledge of children’s needs, to find new ways of holding systems to account for the impact they make on vulnerable children drawn into the deep end of services.



Third, we see a need to develop and test new ways of evaluating services where the traditional outcome paradigm is not suitable.

Fourth, we see potential in applying public health principles to the child protection system.




New Wing, Somerset House, Strand,
London, WC2R 1LA

Phone: (01803) 762400


Lower Hood Barn, Dartington,
Totnes, TQ9 6AB

Phone: (01803) 762400


Robertson House, 152 Bath Street,
Glasgow, G2 4TB

Phone: (01803) 762400