Press release

David Halpern appointed as What Works National Adviser

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Dr David Halpern will lead efforts to improve the use of evidence in policy-making across government as the national adviser to What Works.

Today the Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander have announced the appointment of Dr David Halpern as the What Works National Adviser.

Launched in March, the What Works network is a key action of the Civil Service Reform Plan. The network consists of 6 independent centres that will gather and share the most robust evidence on what works to inform government policy making in health, education, crime reduction, early intervention, ageing and local economic growth. The new What Works centres cover spending of more than £200 billion in public services.

As What Works National Adviser, David Halpern will support the development of the What Works centres, ensuring that they meet the required standards and deliver on time. He will also set up and chair the What Works Network Council to promote the network’s approach across government, advising ministers and government leaders on the effectiveness of good evidence in policy and spending decisions.

Find out more about the What Works Network.

David Halpern will aim for the centres to match NICE’s excellent record of using rigorous evidence to shape decisions. For example, NICE’s evidence-based guidelines for mental health treatment have shown that this treatment will deliver a net benefit to society of £4,640 million by the end of 2016 to 2017, after an initial investment of £400 million.

Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin welcomed the appointment saying:

David Halpern has an outstanding track record of working in both government and academe. I congratulate David on his appointment and am confident that his expertise and passion will help the What Works network to improve decision making across public services. Under his leadership, the Behavioural Insights Team has already shown that the use of evidence-based techniques can improve public services and deliver real value to the taxpayer.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander welcomed the appointment saying:

When times are tight, spending every penny on programmes that work is more important than ever. I welcome David Halpern’s appointment and I look forward to working with him to ensure that Spending Reviews decisions are rooted in the best possible evidence on what works and what will deliver the best value for taxpayer money.

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood commented on the appointment:

It is vital that the Civil Service has the skills, expertise and capacity to ensure that government decision-making is supported by high quality evidence. David Halpern has a proven track record of using evidence and behavioural insights to drive real change across government. I look forward to working with David as we seek to embed What Works thinking across the public sector.

David Halpern said:

Having worked on both sides of the policy and academic divide for more than 2 decades, I’m passionate about the power and importance of evidence. The creation of the What Works centres, network and National Advisor role represents a step change in how government uses and generates evidence, and has the potential to improve everything we do, from the humblest detail of a form to the grand sweep of policy.

David Halpern’s appointment is immediate and he will combine the post with his existing duties as Director of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). David will be supported in the Cabinet Office by a small team.

Notes to editors

The What Works National Adviser is a senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office. Dr Halpern has been appointed for a 1-year period, after which a full open competition will take place.

Key responsibilities will include:

  • promoting and supporting a strong and independent network of What Works centres
  • chairing the What Works Council
  • establishing the research, evaluation and investment appraisal standards to be applied across What Works centres
  • ensuring that What Works Centres meet the core What Works criteria and deliver to time and expectation
  • accrediting What Works centres, reviewing the progress of centres and ensuring the research, evaluation and investment appraisal standards are applied consistently
  • advising departments and partners on the set-up and delivery of new What Works centres and ensure new centres are driven by the demands of commissioners, not the supply of evidence
  • acting as the focal point for bodies (either inside or outside of government) who can inform, influence and fund the What Works central function and associated centres
  • working with key international partners, such as the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and Dutch Central Planning Bureau, to share best practice and identify the most effective way to communicate good evidence

The What Works Network was a key action in the Civil Service Reform Plan to transform the use and generation of evidence in government. Today What Works is being showcased at Be Exceptional at Olympia, London. This annual gathering of civil servants is where innovation and good practice from across the public sector is shared with civil servants from across all public services.

Dr David Halpern is currently Director of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team where he has been leading efforts to use behavioural insights to improve public service delivery across government, as well as providing support on the wellbeing agenda. David takes up the position of National Adviser immediately and will execute his duties alongside his other commitments.

Previously David was Chief Analyst in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit (2001-2007). He led numerous reviews, including the UK government’s strategic audits and recent policy reviews; set up the Social Exclusion Task Force and drafted its action plan; and authored many of the Strategy Unit’s most influential papers, such as those on life satisfaction, personal responsibility and behaviour change.

Before entering government, he held tenure at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge University. He has also held posts at Nuffield College, Oxford; the Policy Studies Institute, London; as a Visiting Professor at the Centre for European Studies, Harvard; and was the Founding Director of the Institute of Government. He has published widely including the books Hidden Wealth of Nations (2009); Social Capital (2005); Options for Britain: a strategic policy review (1996); Options for a New Britain (2009) and Mental Health and the Built Environment (1995).

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is a recognised leader in using rigorous evidence to improve health services. For example, the cost of mental health to the economy is £52 billion or 4% of GDP; implementing NICE guidelines for evidence based treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has shown to result in a net benefit to society of £4,640 million by the end of 2016 to 2017, after an initial investment of £400 million.

This is based on analysis on the British Household Panel Survey 2008 and 2009. This found that recovery after successful talking therapy treatment individuals will have 1.59 fewer GP consultations, 0.36 fewer annual outpatient procedures and 0.73 fewer inpatient bed nights on average per annum.

Failure to implement evidence-based treatments can also be costly. Analysis of the first year of IAPT sites found that not all patients received CBT. Some received counselling, which was not recommended by NICE for anxiety disorders (see Kendrick, T., & Pilling, S. (2012). Common mental health disorders–identification and pathways to care: NICE clinical guideline. The British journal of general practice: the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(594), 47). Patients with Generalised Anxiety Disorder who received CBT were 69% more likely to recover than those who received counselling even after their initial severity was taken into account (see Gyani, Shafran, Clark and Layard, Behaviour Research and Therapy, In press).

CBT has been shown to be cost effective in numerous studies and in numerous contexts. For example, one study demonstrated if a company with 500 employees screened them for depression and anxiety and then offered a course of CBT to those who were at risk, their net benefit would be £83,728, above their initial costs of £20,000 (see Knapp, M., McDaid, D., & Parsonage, M. (2011). Mental health promotion and mental illness prevention: The economic case).