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Frequently asked questions - general
If your questions aren't answered elsewhere on the site, they might be here.
What does Pro Bono Economics do?
PBE matches volunteer economists with charities wishing to address questions around measurement, results, impact and value. Usually, a charity will register a proposal to measure the impact of an intervention or service of theirs. We work with them to define refine this idea and, if it looks feasible, allocate an economist, or team, who can get into the detail and determine the best approach. They may then continue with the project, or hand it to another team to undertake.
Sometimes a charity may not have enough data, the right data, or data over a long enough period of time for a piece of analysis, and so our economists may work with them to identify what will be needed to allow analysis in the future. We hope that the charity would get back in touch with us once all the data was collected – possibly after one or two years.
There are other way in which PBE can help charities and sometimes it is simply a conversation that helps them to understand better the challenges and complexities of measuring their impact. We have also completed a few projects that used the skills of economists in other ways, such as literature reviews, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
There is more information about what we do here.
How did Pro Bono Economics begin?
Pro Bono Economics is the brainchild of economists Martin Brookes and Andy Haldane. Read more here.
Why is this service needed?
At the moment, the third sector is buzzing with debate, discussion and information about impact. The need for it looks to be here to stay, but despite the guidance available it remains a challenging task which can be expensive and time consuming. We can make the job easier.
Lots of charities can’t afford the going rate for economists, whose market price is set within the private and public sectors. We provide this service for free, as our economists offer their services without charge.
Many charities do not understand the value of economic analysis and so don’t seek it. Most economists don’t realise that their skill-sets would be valuable in estimating the impact of charities’ work. We act, in a sense, as a matching agency, and as a more general source of information about the use of economics in the charitable sector. We hope that both sides of the relationship will benefit, resulting in a more effective charity sector, and an economics profession with a broader set of experiences.
What is the process?
We have a fairly standard process for projects, beginning with a discussion with the charity about what they want from us. We aim to set clear expectations at every stage to avoid surprises as the project progresses. See the steps we go through here.
It is worth noting that there is no such thing as a quick project! Our volunteer economists are often working in the evenings and at weekends and so a quick turnaround is unlikely. It can also take time to find the right person, with the right skills, at the right time to take on a piece of work.
Is it a free service?
We do not charge charities for this service, as our economists work as unpaid volunteers. We encourage charities that can afford to make a contribution to the costs of running PBE to consider making a donation, but we never make this a requirement of doing a project.
However, this does not mean that there is no cost to the charity. Assembling the data and making relevant information available to the volunteers can be a time consuming process. We therefore ask all charities to think about whether they can commit the time and resources to any project with us.
How are you funded and where does the money go?
Though we provide our service for free, we have a small central team that runs the organisation and manages projects. Projects require more hands-on management than we had anticipated at the outset.
We want to grow our central team so that we are able to take on more projects and provide a better experience for volunteers and charities. We have recently employes a part-time economist in-house economist who is, among other things, developing and maintaining the resources needed to equip our volunteers for projects
Who monitors the quality of Pro Bono Economics' work?
Projects are undertaken by an experienced economist, or a team of economists with senior oversight. If a project is taken on by a team in a commercial organisation or a government department, the organisation will be responsible for the first level of quality assurance. The second level of quality assurance is provided by Pro Bono Economics, with economists on the central team and on our board of trustees. Our trustees carry out a regular audit of our working practices.
Most importantly, we have a peer review process for every piece of analysis, using an experienced economist, independent of the project, to carry out a review. This allows us to be sure that our output is high quality, transparent and unbiased.
Do you only help charities?
We will work with registered charities and charities registered as Industrial and Provident Societies. Organisations registered as IPSs must demonstrate that they are a charity, i.e. confirm that HMRC regards them as such.
Any type of organisation other than the those listed above, including Community Interest Companies and those that describe themselves as social enterprises, must be able to provide us with evidence that a key component of their mission, stated in their governing documents, is to meet specific social/environmental objectives. The Charities Act 2011 lists thirteen descriptions of purposes or aims, which must be for the public benefit to be considered charitable.
How will charities use the results?
This depends upon what the results show and how they can help the charity. If analysis shows that the charity is doing a good job, that their intervention works and represents value for money, then it is most likely the charity will want to use this information for campaigning or fundraising purposes. If the results show that the intervention is not effective, or not cost effective, and there is no reason to think that better data might give a different picture, we would expect the charity and its board to consider why this might be the case, and use this information to help think about how they might make changes. For projects that result in advice on data collection, we would hope that the charity follows the advice, and comes back to us for analysis, once sufficient data has been collected.
We undertake reviews with each charity a year after a project is completed. This is important in order to be able to demonstrate our own impact.
Where we think that the results of a project might be useful for other charities, we will look to share the results widely. We may do this by holding discussion events for relevant stakeholders, or through other methods of dissemination.
Where can I read your publications?
All our reports can be found on our projects pages.
How can I be kept up to date with your work?
We will happily add you to our mailing list if you would like to be on it. We will send you regular updates on our projects and any other news from PBE. Drop us an email at email@example.com
Where do your economists come from?
Our economists come from across the profession, volunteering as individuals or in teams at their workplace. Around half of our economists work in the private sector, with the other half from the Government Economic Service, other public bodies, and universities.