Press release

New world leading evidence centres to drive better decisions across £200 billion of public services

A new initiative will build on existing evidence-based policy making to guide decision-making on £200 billion of public spending.

CAB 026-13

National government and local public services will benefit from access to a world leading network of centres providing robust, comprehensive evidence to guide decision making on £200 billion of public spending, announced the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, today.

Launch of the What Works Centres

Launch of the What Works Centres

The What Works Network, a key action in the Civil Service reform plan, will consist of two existing centres of excellence – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Educational Endowment Foundation – plus four new independent institutions responsible for gathering, assessing and sharing the most robust evidence to inform policy and service delivery in tackling crime, promoting active and independent ageing, effective early intervention, and fostering local economic growth.

This initiative will build upon existing evidence-based policy making. These independent specialist centres will produce and disseminate research to local decision makers, supporting them in investing in services that deliver the best outcomes for citizens and value for money for taxpayers. The centres will also feed insights into the heart of government to inform national decision-making. It is the first time a government anywhere has set up such a model at a national level.

Extending evidence-led policy making in this way was a key action in the Civil Service Reform Plan, launched last June, and the Open Public Services White Paper of July 2011.

Since these publications, government departments have worked with partners including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Big Lottery Fund to develop a model that will pull together world-leading research to answer the most pressing issues facing public services. The network will be part-funded by the government with significant contributions from ESRC. The Big Lottery Fund is the sponsor and principle funder of the centre for ageing better.

What Works Centres: Q&A session

What Works Centres: Q&A session

Ahead of today’s launch at Nesta, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said:

It is vital that we continue using evidence-based policy making to shape decisions on public spending, particularly in this financial climate. The What Works Network will bring a real step-change to our evidence generating capabilities, and will further ensure government takes decisions at the Spending Round and future events on the basis of high quality research aimed at delivering the best possible outcomes for the public.

Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin said:

The What Works Network will support commissioners and decision-makers at every level of government – from head teachers and local police chiefs, to ministers and civil servants. A decade from now, we will wonder how we ever did without it.

A What Works National Adviser will chair the What Works Network. This post will be held by a respected individual with a track record of using evidence to inform policy. The National Adviser will ensure that high quality and consistent standards for the use of research are applied across the Network.

Notes to editors

  1. The original commitment to investigate a ‘NICE for social policy’ was in the Open Public Services White Paper of July 2011 and was also a key action in the Civil Service Reform Plan.
  2. There will be four new independent What Works centres in local economic growth, ageing better, early intervention and crime reduction.
  3. The new centres will be joined by NICE and the Sutton Trust / Education Endowment Foundation to form the What Works Network, placing high quality evidence at the heart of everything they do. Whilst each centre will have a sector-specific focus, being part of a network will ensure they work together, sharing best practices and drawing on the experiences of local and international partners.
  4. Each What Works centre is independent from government and they have six core functions, which they will all undertake:
    • Undertake systematic assessment of relevant evidence and produce a sound, accurate, clear and actionable synthesis of the global evidence base which assesses and ranks interventions on the basis of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness; shows where the interventions are applicable; shows the relative cost of interventions and shows the strength of evidence on an agreed scale.
    • Produce and apply a common currency for comparing the effectiveness of interventions.
    • Put the needs and interests of users at the heart of its work.
    • Publish and disseminate findings in a format that can be understood, interpreted and acted upon.
    • Identify research and capability gaps and work with partners to fill them.
    • Advise those commissioning and undertaking innovative interventions and research projects to ensure that their work can be evaluated effectively.
  5. A What Works National Adviser will be appointed to sit within the Cabinet Office and report to the Minister for Government Policy and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The National Adviser will have a dual role of supporting the network of independent What Works centres and advising ministers.
  6. The National Adviser, along with colleagues across government, and in discussion with the social science community, will also explore the merits of creating a post of government’s Chief Social Scientist.
  7. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205m. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  8. The Big Lottery Fund (BIG), the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery. BIG is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since its inception in 2004 BIG has awarded close to £6bn.
  9. The Cabinet Office have today published a paper outlining our plans.
  10. Nesta have today produced a paper presenting the need for evidence:
  11. What Works builds on the example set by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in providing robust evidence-based guidance to support health decision-making. The What Works centres will provide accessible, actionable information to local authority commissioners, head teachers, Policing and Crime Commissioners, and others shaping public services on the ground, including the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, as well as feeding the best evidence on what works into central government decision-making.

Annex 1: New centre information

What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth will analyse, synthesise and proactively disseminate the evidence base relating to interventions that promote local economic growth. The primary customers for the outputs of the centre will be decision makers and practitioners working in, and with, Local Economic Partnerships, Cities and Local Authorities, who are responsible for the generation and use of evidence.

Further details of the Local Growth What Works centre will be announced separately by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Department for Communities and Local Government and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Details of the application process are published today by the ESRC and the deadline for applications is 25 April 2013, with a decision expected to be announced on 5 July.

The centre will have core funding of £1m p.a. over an initial three year term, jointly funded by ESRC (50%), BIS, and DCLG (both 25%).

What Works Centre for Ageing Better

The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) is in the process of establishing a centre for ageing better. BIG has been developing plans for this ‘centre’ in conjunction with groups of older people themselves, and other stakeholders including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Department of Health (DH) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Further details about this centre will be announced by the Big Lottery Fund at the end of March. The plan is for this centre to become a member of the What Works network, recognising that it will be delivering the ambitions of What Works in ageing better as part of its remit.

What Works Centre for Crime Reduction

The College of Policing will host a What Works Centre for Crime Reduction. The centre’s role will be to identify the best available evidence on approaches to reducing crime and potential savings. The College will work with academics, police and public bodies involved in community safety work to review the evidence base and get the results into the hands of decision makers, including Police and Crime Commissioners.

The What Works Centre activity will be overseen by an independent academic member of the College Board, to be announced shortly. The Board has an independent academic chair, Professor Shirley Pearce.

Professor Pearce brings with her a wealth of knowledge in developing the health professions, higher education, research and development, and working in partnership across sectors to further joint interests. She recently concluded seven successful years as Vice Chancellor at Loughborough University. Earlier in her career she qualified and practised as a clinical psychologist before taking on a range of lecturing and senior executive roles, primarily at University College London and the University of East Anglia.

The College of Policing was launched on 4 February 2013 with Chief Constable Alex Marshall as Chief Executive. The College plans to tender with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for academic partners in What Works Centre activity during Summer 2013.

What Works Centre for Early Intervention

On 5 February 2013, the Department for Education (DfE) and The Early Intervention Foundation Consortium signed a contract which will see the creation of an independent Early Intervention Foundation – one of the key recommendations of Graham Allen MP’s Early Intervention reports for government.

The Early Intervention Foundation will be the designated What Works centre for Early Intervention, and will provide a single source of independent, comprehensive and authoritative advice on early intervention measures – to government, local service commissioners and investors – helping grow and improve the UK evidence base to transform the lives of children and young people.

The Early Intervention Foundation is an independent organisation which champions and supports early intervention to develop social and emotional bedrock of babies, children and young people to tackle the roots not the symptoms of social problems.

The Foundation has received funding from the DfE of £3.5m over two years. The Foundation is being set up by a consortium of organisations which includes 4Children, the Local Government Association and Achievement for All 3As. The organisations will support the new Foundation in its infancy before handing over responsibility to the Foundation’s trustees and management once it is established as a charity in its own right in the summer.

For further information contact Anne Longfield Chief Executive, 4Children on 020 3542 2481 or 07774 861955; or Graham Allen, Chair of the Foundation, 07802 210 179.

Annex 2: Case studies of why using evidence is effective

In health the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was established in 1999 and provides guidance to support decision-making regarding health. From 1 April 2013 it will do the same for social care. Its guidance is based on robust, rigorous evidence to inform health spending and clinical decisions. NICE recognise that having guidance based on robust evidence is beneficial to:

  • patients and carers receiving care in line with the best available evidence of clinical and cost-effectiveness;
  • healthcare professionals who can ensure care provided is based on the best evidence available.

The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit is a free and accessible summary of over 5,500 educational research studies for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The toolkit was developed by academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is also testing innovative initiatives to improve pupil attainment for the most disadvantaged pupils across England. The projects are rigorously evaluated and currently involve over 275,000 pupils and 1,400 schools.

Robust evidence is currently being used across government to inform policies and decision making. For example:

  • The Family Nurse Partnership has been tested in England since April 2007. It is being evaluated in England through a formative evaluation of the first ten sites, which will complete early in 2011; and a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) in 18 sites which will report in 2013 to show how effective the FNP programme is compared to other services.
  • Using randomised controlled trials to test strategies to improve tax collection. In February 2011, HMRC – supported by the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – began a trial to establish the impact of altering the messages sent in letters to encourage tax debtors to pay tax owed. HMRC and BIT designed a suite of letters, which were sent to people owing self-assessment tax debts for the first time. The trial was on a large scale, comprising around 140,000 debts worth £290m. The results were that letters which informed people that the majority of people in their area had already paid their tax, and which reminded people about the importance of paying tax for their local services, outperformed the control group letters by around 15 percentage points. When rolled out, it is estimated that using the highest performing letters would save the Exchequer around £30m in additional tax revenue .

International examples of using evidence highlight the importance of using evidence to know whether policies and programmes are effective. For instance:

  • the US D.A.R.E. anti-drug programme was widely promoted. However, evidence showed that this programme increased drug use in certain areas
  • the Scared Straight crime reduction programme was found to actually increase offending among young people by as much as 28%

J-PAL is a global network of researchers who use randomised evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty in international development. They have produced a publically accessible database of 360 research evaluations in 52 countries that can be accessed to find information on what works in an international development issues. Policy and decision makers can use this tool to access evidence to inform future policy development.

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