There is general consensus that improvements need to be made in the use of evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales. The national Family Justice Review (2011) highlighted deficits in research generation, communication and application. In addition, the Review drew attention to problems with the underpinning data infrastructure because trusted knowledge about how the family justice system is working is insufficient. In 2015, the Nuffield Foundation set out the preliminary case for a family justice ‘observatory’ based on the view that a new organisational structure is needed to tackle these long-standing difficulties. A background briefing paper is available from the Nuffield Foundation.

This scoping study aims to explore the feasibility of establishing a new observatory and its potential functions. Lancaster University, in partnership with the Alliance for Useful Evidence, will lead this work, carrying out a mixed-methods study.

A call for evidence will be combined with a series of regional focus groups, consulting with our overseas colleagues, undertaking interviews with national policy and practice leads and finally reviewing relevant organisational models. Building research capacity is central to the mission of the observatory, hence we have included a data scoping exercise to examine the potential use of available large-scale datasets.

The overarching aim of this study is to establish a clear, specific and measurable set of purposes for a new organisational structure, and to draw conclusions about feasibility and funding.

For more information on the aims of the study and how we plan to achieve this, see study overview section.