Volunteering for Pro Bono Economics: Allan Little

Allan Little is a government economist, currently Head of Appraisal in the Central Economics Team at the Department of Education. As a volunteer for Pro Bono Economics, he prepared the 2016 report on Tavistock Relationships, evaluating the charity’s Parents as Partners programme, and the 2018 report on Place2Be, which evaluated its counselling service in primary schools. Allan first became involved with PBE through Karen Hancock, formerly the Department of Education’s Chief Economist, who at the time was leading and managing PBE’s volunteer programme.

How did you become involved with Pro Bono Economics?

The Tavistock Relationships project was my first experience of professional volunteering…In many respects, Pro Bono Economics projects draw on the skills that government economists develop in our day jobs, applying the principles of the Treasury’s Green Book to policy appraisal. At the same time volunteering has expanded my horizons greatly. 

How does your day job coincide with volunteering at Pro Bono Economics?

My work with Pro Bono Economics made me reflect on how children’s well-being could be integrated further into education policy – and what that means for economists as we approach cost-benefit appraisal to support policy-making.

What benefits have you experienced through skilled volunteering?

Volunteering for Pro Bono Economics has brought me both professional and personal benefits.

There is great satisfaction in seeing the impact the reports have had on the charities’ work. The cost-benefit analysis for Tavistock Relationships estimated that its Parents as Partners programme could produce an economic return of around £7 for each £1 spent. As for Place2Be’s counselling service, the ratio was estimated at £6.20 for every £1 invested. Those are sizeable returns that can tell a compelling story to funders.

Pro Bono Economics rightly advocates a conservative approach when it comes to evaluating these impacts; any headline numbers are supported by a full peer-reviewed report, making the evidence and assumptions transparent.

How was it working with the team at Pro Bono Economics?

As a volunteer you get impressive support from the team at Pro Bono Economics. They help you build a relationship with the charity and schedule the work in a realistic way for all parties. At every point there is an emphasis on making sure the analysis is robust and credible, with expert advice always on hand.

How do you view Pro Bono Economics’ role in the policy space?

With 10 years’ worth of projects behind it, I think Pro Bono Economics has an opportunity to push forward some cutting-edge developments in how we evaluate economic and social impacts, and spearhead new and novel approaches to appraising the social benefits that ultimately motivate charities.

It remains a challenge for many charities to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their interventions, which is so often crucial in making the case for scarce funding. Pro Bono Economics has a proven track record of developing strategies for dealing with that, complementing the expertise of the charity under evaluation. 

I would encourage charities to seek support at an early stage in the development of new interventions, so that programmes can be designed with value-for-money analysis in mind.