Innovation & Enterprise


UCL staff support Camden Council through the pandemic

The skills and expertise of UCL staff have helped Camden Council evaluate its service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic.

Two people sitting opposite each other and talking

18 November 2021

The Rapid Evaluation & Learning (REAL) service is a collaboration between UCL Innovation & Enterprise and UCL Culture. It involves academics and professional services staff from faculties across the university giving their time on a pro bono basis.

Camden Council adapts in lockdown

At the onset of the UK national lockdown, Camden Council had to re-engineer almost all its key services within a matter of days, from child support to business growth.

In normal times this would take months and be accompanied by a variety of assessments, including cost-benefit, equality of access, sustainability and environmental impact.

However, such was the speed of the redesign, few assessments were conducted prior to roll-out. So when the opportunity arose, there was an urgent need to monitor, evaluate and learn from their performance as the pandemic evolved.

An opportunity to collaborate to evaluate

UCL Innovation & Enterprise learnt about the challenges facing Camden Council at one of its Challenge-Oriented Innovation meetings in April 2020. UCL Innovation & Enterprise awarded a small amount of seed funding to UCL Culture to develop the concept of a rapid evaluation and monitoring support service.

Led by Dr Dominic Galliano, Head of Public Engagement (UCL Culture), the project recruited 21 volunteer evaluators from across UCL.

The project also drew on seven professional services ‘moderators’ from the UCL Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) to manage the process of matching UCL volunteers to officers at London Borough of Camden.

Volunteers offer skills and expertise

One of the UCL evaluators who volunteered their expertise was Dr David Harrison, Research Fellow in Medical Education (UCL Medical School). He said:

“The REAL service allowed me to use my experience and skills to engage with the Camden Library Service in a practical way, constructing an evaluation framework that had a clear and immediate impact for the community.”

The Libraries Programme Manager for London Borough of Camden, Jessica Farrand, added:

“The REAL evaluation service provided fantastic support to Camden Libraries. In 2020 Camden Libraries had to adapt, change and innovate a number of services during the pandemic, looking at new, safe ways to continue to provide access to books, learning and computers. With support from Dr David Harrison from the UCL REAL project we were able to evaluate the impact of these service changes on Camden residents. This has enabled us to adapt our services to better meet the needs of our communities now and in the medium and long term.”

A legacy for evaluation

The REAL service has worked on 14 evaluations for Camden Council. These have included evaluating changes to service designs in finance, community safety, family services and library services.

The programme was originally intended to run until November 2020 but was extended twice in light of continued need. It’s now expected to end in November 2021, although an ad hoc service will continue.

Camden and UCL hope to use the experience of the REAL service to inform future service delivery to local people. The team is also exploring whether the service could be broadened out to assist other local authorities.


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Photo © UCL, by Alejandro Walter Salinas Lopez

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