Data quality assessment to support initiatives focussed on those most-at-risk youth

Client: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

The context

High rates of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) have become a concern internationally. Research suggests disengaged youth are more likely to experience social exclusion, increased psychological distress, and poor quality of life,[1] impacting on individuals’ ability to lead fulfilling lives with purpose, balance and meaning to them. Beyond wellbeing, the costs[2] related to NEETs are significant,[3] for instance, the estimated per capita cost of each NEET rangatahi in New Zealand was $26,847 over the 2012-2015 time period. Investing in NEET rangatahi could benefit employers by enabling them to access prospective employees to match their needs, while enabling young people to find jobs, train for better jobs, improve their incomes, support their whanau and engage and contribute to their communities.

He Poutama Rangatahi/Youth Employment Pathways (HPR) Strategy was launched in January 2018 as an investment in people (not programmes). The Strategy focuses on a sub-group of young people, in particular those 15-to 24-year-olds currently NEET who face the greatest challenges in gaining sustained employment.

The HPR monitoring and evaluation plan focused on addressing the Strategy’s accountability requirements over time. Knowing that achieving and evaluating[5] the goal of sustained employment would take time, the focus was to first monitor quality and progress across the individual initiatives and rangatahi over the initial 36 months. A monitoring approach and reporting system was established to estimate progress systematically across HPR providers according to the expected achievements – providers first target and enrol those most at risk, then engage and support these individuals, and ultimately help them make progress on the pathway towards sustained employment. Specific measures and reporting tools were created to help MBIE and providers delivering the initiatives monitor this progress along a theoretical pathway.

The project

To guide effective decision making, government required data that represents progress accurately, demonstrating useful and up-to-date information about HPR providers and rangatahi. Providers collect and report statistics quarterly to MBIE. Data quality was assessed according to five quality dimensions – completeness, consistency, timeliness, validity, and uniqueness – for each dataset provided to MBIE from the different providers. The strengths and weaknesses of the different data, as well as an overall quality score, were summarised so Ministry officials could understand the quality of data and ultimately how they could use these data. The quality review was also used to help understand if other activities were required to improve data quality and reporting among the providers.


[1] Stain, H., et al. (2019). Study protocol: a randomised controlled trial of a telephone delivered social wellbeing and engaged living (SWEL) psychological intervention for disengaged youth. BMC Psychiatry, 19(1), 136. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2116-5

[2] The 2016 OECD report (Society at a Glance) defines NEET costs as the gross labour income NEET could command if they were employed, measured as the gross labour cost (including social security contributions).

[3] Estimated loss of income totalled between 0.9% – 1.5% of the OECD GDP. OECD (2016). Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264261488-en

[4] McGirr, M. (2019). Not just about NEETs: A rapid review od evidence on what works for youth at risk of limited employment. Ministry of Education.

[5] The impact evaluation was designed to estimate what was achieved for local youth and also whether this achievement would have occurred without HPR support. The difference the activities made would represent the value-add of HPR, and use Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure for this purpose.

Image credit: “Work hard… always” by leonfhl is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Impact evaluation of the New Zealand Healthy School Lunch programme

Client: Ministry of Education

The context

The New Zealand healthy school lunches programme is an initiative by the New Zealand Government to reduce food insecurity by providing access to free, nutritious lunches for all learners at participating schools and kura daily.  The whole-school programme targets schools and kura with the highest concentrations of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme is intended to ensure not only that nutritious food is available to learners every day, but that the food (quality, quantity and variety) promotes learners’ consumption. it was further expected that the provision of sufficient quantitities of nutritious food will lead to a series of expected outcomes, including improved school attendance as well as improved diet and nutrition for learners, and therefore greater food security.

The evaluation

The evaluation required rigorous data, including generalisable results comparing “paired” schools (those with and without the programme) to assess impact of the programme for accountability purposes.

The evaluation adopted a real-world approach, making use of the rolling enrolments to integrate a stepped-wise design and assess the net effects of the programme on learners. A clustered sample design at the class-level was used to track food availability and consumption, satiety and wellbeing among young people aged 5 to 13 –years-old. Further, propensity score matching was used on both student attendance data.

Measures for He Poutama Rangatahi initiative

Client: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

Psychometric analysis ensures young people can get the support they need

“Standard of Proof helped a government agency develop a questionnaire which would help organisations understand the strengths, needs and progress relevant to each young people sustaining employment over time. The factors that could help these organisations identify needs and progress towards their long term goal – sustained employment – included aspects of individual’s foundational needs, employability and opportunity.

The intended use of the questionnaire highlights the importance of providing accurate information. If the data misrepresent a young person’s ability to sustain work, inappropriate decisions might be made that could have negative effects on the person. For example, the young person may be placed into work too early, before they are able to sustain a job, which may have a lasting negative impact on their future employment opportunities. Inaccurate information may be worse than having no information at all.

Standard of Proof, with the support of the University of Western Australia, applied the Rasch unidimensional measurement model to determine if the organisations and young people could use and interpret the data as intended, and if government organisations could trust the results. Of even greater importance at this early stage, the technique produced diagnostic information necessary to improve the questionnaire, making it easier for young people to respond to and providing information that everyone can rely on in order to inform the ‘right’ next steps.

Evaluation of the Oral Language and Literacy Initiative

Client: Ministry of Education

 “Making high quality evidence accessible in a real-world context

 “The Ministry of Education is trialling an Oral Language and Literacy initiative (OLLi) to support early literacy and oral language skills among young learners in New Zealand. OLLi is being implemented across 8 regions in New Zealand, and is expected to reach approximately 24,000 children within 800 Early Learning Services from 2018 to 2021. Through specifically trained Speech-language Therapists, the initiative intends to positively influence ELS culture and staff, building confidence and improving practice in terms of building oral language and literacy in children. As a result, children’s oral language and literacy is expected to improve through these engagements that emphasise language sounds, words, structure and complexity.

Standard of Proof supported the Ministry of Education national and regional teams to test and iterate the design of a cluster-randomised evaluation to work alongside this initiative throughout the first trial year.  The evaluation is now being implemented, providing robust evidence within this ‘real-world’ context. 

We are proud to have supported the Ministry in their endeavour towards quality evidence, and we wish the Ministry of Education and the hard-working OLLi team every success at improving outcomes for our young learners.