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Drivers for change

IO6: Measuring benefits, evaluating activity

The National Framework sets the expectations regarding the evaluation of some fire and rescue service activity. 

“In all their prevention and protection activities, fire and rescue authorities should assess what they are aiming to achieve through the activity, what type of intervention is most likely to achieve the aims and how best to measure and evaluate outcomes. Fire and rescue authorities should share details of their interventions to support each other to understand and improve the evidence base of what works best and what is most cost-effective.”

While the National Framework considers evaluation through the lens of prevention and protection activity, the Thomas Review looks at the evaluation of technologies used by fire and rescue services. He describes a system whereby services carry out evaluation of potential equipment even though they have already been evaluated and then implemented elsewhere. He argued for a centralised testing facility to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

HMICFRS’s tranche one report reinforces the expectations set out in the National Framework, adding in their findings regarding the benefits and evaluation of collaborative working. “Most of the fire and rescue services we inspected are ambitious in the collaboration efficiencies they aim for. But nearly half of services have no formal review process for collaboration. So they fail to evaluate the benefits of often costly projects. Where they have done so, the results often fall short of the anticipated savings. Services need to evaluate the collaborations to identify what worked. Evaluation will also help them better understand the feasibility of future projects and predict results.”

In terms of prevention, the inspectorate notes that very few services evaluate prevention activity properly and have a limited understanding of the benefits it can provide to the public. This criticism is also levelled at the protection activities where HMICFRS suggests that fire and rescue services would benefit from evaluating the effectiveness of the activities to assist prioritisation of work to focus on those at greatest risk. 

Operational activities include post incident debriefing. In the HMICFRS reports there are references to debriefing being confined to the immediate crew attending the incident rather than being shared more widely. Another area that is mentioned is operational discretion, which is used to variable degrees across the country and the inspectors make the link between good recording and evaluation of operational discretion and how well officers learn from its use at incidents.