Making a difference

A persuasive and growing evidence base

There is a persuasive and growing evidence base that Circles of Support and Accountability work. A summary of some of the key research regarding the efficacy of Circles both in England and Wales, and internationally, is produced here:

CoSA – Summary Key Research

A further reading list here:

Research & Journals

Recent research specific to Circles South West

Research In Practice, 2018

‘Research in Practice’, the charity promoting evidence-informed practice, is currently conducting an in-depth piece of research for Circles South West, investigating the impact of Circles on reoffending and related risk factors for those who have been convicted of sexual offences, with a particular focus on evaluating 3 pilot projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund: Circles for Young People; Circles for adults with Intellectual Disabilities; and Prison/Through The Gate Circles. This research is approved by the HMPPS National Research Committee. The Interim Evaluation Report published in October 2018 can be accessed here:

Evaluation of Circles South West Interim Report Oct 18

and the Executive Summary here:

Evaluation of Circles South West Interim Report – Executive Summary Oct 18

The Evaluator concludes that:

“In the absence of a control group and further longitudinal data, it is difficult to say whether the differences in average outcomes represents positive effects of circles; however, the emerging evidence from qualitative questions suggests that coordinators, volunteers and core members all believe that circles are influencing the positive changes in outcomes for many CMs. There is some assumption present in this, but the early evidence suggests that circles have been, in part, responsible for improving outcomes for factors known to relate to reoffending.

 In terms of the pilot circles, there is clear evidence that these are underway, and that early evidence is showing positive effects. There is evidence of certain adaptations occurring in each type of circle, where the support is being tailored for different populations. For prison circles, the support for ex-offenders as they transition back into the community has been highlighted. Young person circles appear to be having impacts on education and also on young person confidence. And ID circles have made positive differences in the development of relationships. Across all circles, the central focus on controlling thoughts and actions remains present, and the majority of circles appear to be making positive differences here.

 In terms of the volunteers, CSW appears to have developed a valuable community asset. Many volunteers report using their skills outside of circles, wanting to volunteer again, and recommending volunteering to others. The training by CSW was almost entirely met with positive feedback, as was the support that coordinators provided for volunteers. As a conservative estimate, across just the 52 circles that we have data for, if only three volunteers attended a weekly session with each core member, this would equate to over eight thousand volunteering hours over the course of a year, not to mention the additional economic benefits in training and experience of working with this population of ex-offenders.

Although data collection is still ongoing, the emerging findings show that circles are having a positive effect on core members, improving outcomes and reducing scores for a variety of risk factors”. 

We are grateful to the Big Lottery Fund for investing in independent evaluation commissioned by Circles South West. Further information about Research In Practice at www.rip.org.uk

University of Cambridge, 2018

Glebe House provides therapeutic residential care for adolescent males who have displayed harmful sexual behaviours. The Friends Therapeutic Trust www.ftctrust.org.uk commissioned the University of Cambridge to evaluate Circles established for young adults to support their transition to living independent in the community on leaving Glebe House. Circles South West has provided 3 such Circles to date. The evaluation report published in July 2018 includes the young people’s Circles provided by Circles South West and can be accessed here Evaluation of Glebe House Circles, July 2018 [Cambridge Uni]. The evaluator concludes that:

“The Circle offers support, social interaction and positive role models at the vulnerable time of transition…Circles are a particularly good fit for Glebe House as both institutions are informed by a Quaker ethos of social action reinforcing the importance of relationships, community and collective responsibility.

Circles constituted a space where they could talk and discuss problems, and where they were heard. Relationships within Circles were often (although not always) characterised as trusting, warm and friendly. The activity element of Circles built relationships and enabled the young men to try new leisure pursuits. Circles also offered practical help and guidance in areas such as housing, money management and employment.

The young men in the study were asked whether they would recommend that everyone leaving Glebe House was provided with a Circle. All those who had experienced a Circle said that they would, including one who replied ‘Why wouldn’t you have a Circle?’”


University of the West of England, 2016

McCartan (2016) evaluated 29 Circles set up across the South West, South East, North East and Yorkshire and Humberside. The progress of the Core Members over the course of the Circle was assessed using the Dynamic Risk Review (DRR: a scored questionnaire completed by Volunteers based on the domains of the Structured Assessment of Risk and Need) and structured interviews with the Core Member based on the DRR. The majority demonstrated reductions in dynamic risk over the course of the Circle, and many showed improved outcomes with respect to accommodation, employment, relationships and other circumstances compared to at the start of the Circle. The Evaluator concludes that:

“Circles assists in the reintegration of sexual offenders into the community by providing pro-social support, role modelling, a positive platform and grounded assistance. Circles provide social and emotional support to the Core Members…. being in a stronger position to live offence free in the community than at the beginning of their Circle” (McCartan, 2016).


The Executive Summary is here:

CoSA Social Action Fund – Exec Summary May16

and a Circles South West specific Summary Report here:

CoSA RSAF Evaluation – CSW specific Sept16


Our Funders

Sustainability and corporate responsibility 'more aspiration than reality' in sector | Third Sector https://t.co/zuURr0Cm8Y
25 April 2019
Ensuring the voluntary sector’s role in the future probation model https://t.co/Swc5jSVIOt via @ClinksTweets
22 April 2019
22 April 2019