Working with Pro Bono Economics: Katherine MathiesonKatherine Mathieson headshot

Katherine Mathieson is the Chief Executive of the British Science Association (BSA), which is a charity whose mission is to transform the diversity and inclusivity of science; to reach under-served audiences; and increase the number of people who are actively engaged and involved in science.

How did you first hear about Pro Bono Economics?

Through the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). We had approached the foundation to support us in conducting a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) of our education programme, the CREST Awards, to assess its effect on educational attainment. They initially rejected us due to insufficient evidence proving CREST’s impact, but referred us to Pro Bono Economics to help us gather the data we needed to show that it’s worth doing an RCT.

What was your experience of working with Pro Bono Economics?

We really enjoyed the experience. Pro Bono Economics was always supportive but realistic throughout the project. The volunteers from the Department for Education had a lot of experience working with the National Pupil Database so that was incredibly useful for us.

How did you feel about the result of the project?

We were pleasantly surprised by our degree of impact. We had plenty of anecdotal evidence, but we didn’t have the figures to back those stories up. Through discussion and debate with Pro Bono Economics we are now able to demonstrate our impact on students’ science GCSE attainment.

Have you implemented anything from the findings of the report? Has it changed anything about the way you work?

The main findings have been immensely helpful in our conversation with stakeholders. We can show all our funders much more solid evidence of the benefits of our schemes for children’s science education.   With this evidence we went back to the Education Endowment Foundation and this time they approved funding for an RCT.

It was also a confidence boost for our partner schools and other science enrichment charities because the project showed that this type of scheme does work.

Through the project we also got to grips with our role as a data controller and developed a more sophisticated approach to data, validity and permissions. The lessons we learned about data helped inform our processes when we rebuilt the CREST administration system to comply with GDPR.

Have other charities responded to the report findings?

When I speak about the report, other STEM enrichment charities are fascinated by it because it is really unusual to have this depth of evidence. I think they admire it and there’s a bit of envy! Other similar charities have started adopting our framework, which we love, as it improves quality across the sector.

If you were to recommend Pro Bono Economics to another charity what would you tell them?

Think about using the service, but be aware that it will include a reasonable time commitment, as with all good partnerships. But a project could give you the evidence you need to be able to persuade funders in this increasingly competitive sphere.

To read our reports with the British Science Association, click here (2016) or here (2019).