What Works Network

The What Works Network uses evidence to make better decisions to improve public services.


This initiative aims to improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use (or ‘generate, transmit and adopt’) high quality evidence for decision-making. It supports more effective and efficient services across the public sector at national and local levels.

Read the What Works Network: Five Years On report, published in January 2018. An earlier report, What Works? Evidence for decision-makers, was published in November 2014

What Works is based on the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence. If evidence is not available, decision-makers should use high quality methods to find out what works.

What Works is a world first: it’s the first time any government has taken a national approach to prioritising the use of evidence in decision-making.

The What Works Network

The network is made up of 7 independent What Works Centres and 2 affiliate members. Together these centres cover policy areas which receive public spending of more than £200 billion. What Works Centres are different from standard research centres. They enable policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to make decisions based upon strong evidence of what works and to provide cost-efficient, useful services.

The centres help to ensure that thorough, high quality, independently assessed evidence shapes decision-making at every level, by:

  • collating existing evidence on how effective policy programmes and practices are
  • producing high quality synthesis reports and systematic reviews in areas where they do not currently exist
  • assessing how effective policies and practices are against an agreed set of outcomes
  • sharing findings in an accessible way
  • encouraging practitioners, commissioners and policymakers to use these findings to inform their decisions

The current What Works Centres are:

What Works Centre Policy area
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Health and social care
Sutton Trust/Educational Endowment Foundation Educational achievement
College of Policing What Works Centre for Crime Reduction Crime reduction
Early Intervention Foundation Early intervention
What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (hosted by LSE, Arup, Centre for Cities) Local economic growth
Centre for Ageing Better Improved quality of life for older people
What Works Centre for Wellbeing Wellbeing
Affiliate: Public Policy Institute for Wales  
Affiliate: What Works Scotland  

The Centres are funded by a combination of government and non-government sources including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Big Lottery Fund.

The What Works National Adviser, Dr David Halpern, and his team in the Cabinet Office promote and support the independent What Works Network.

What Works across government

In addition to working with the What Works Centres, the initiative supports government to make policy in a fundamentally different way: deliberately testing variations in approach, vigorously evaluating, and stopping things that don’t work. This includes:

  • running a Cross-Government Trial Advice Panel, with experts from across academia and government providing a free service for all civil servants to help test whether policies and programmes are working
  • sharing findings from the What Works Centres across government and promoting discussion on ‘what works’
  • supporting a civil service with the skills, capability and commitment to use evidence effectively
  • helping policy makers to make informed judgements on investment in services that lead to impact and value for money for citizens

More about the What Works Centres

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

NICE was founded in 1999. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health.

NICE has gained a worldwide reputation for its pioneering use of clinical and cost-effectiveness methodologies to produce authoritative advice and guidelines. The What Works Network was first envisaged as a ‘NICE for social policy’. The cost-effectiveness aspect of What Works was largely modelled on the NICE technology appraisal.

Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation

The Sutton Trust, in partnership with Impetus Trust founded the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2011. It received a founding grant of £125 million from the Department for Education.

The EEF aims to raise the attainment of children facing disadvantage by:

  • identifying and funding promising educational innovations that address the needs of disadvantaged children in primary and secondary schools in England
  • evaluating these innovations to extend and secure the evidence on what works, and can be made to work on a larger scale
  • encouraging schools, government, charities, and others to apply evidence and adopt innovations that are found to be effective

Since its launch, the EEF has commissioned 100 evaluations and committed £57 million of funding to innovative and scalable projects. In total, EEF projects are working in 4,900 schools and reaching 620,000 pupils across England.

The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning toolkit assesses the cost, impact and evidence strength of a range of educational approaches, based on over 10,000 research studies.

College of Policing What Works Centre for Crime Reduction

The College of Policing became a What Works Centre in March 2013 and works in partnership with a consortium of 8 universities. It is co-funded by the College of Policing and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The centre aims to map the evidence on crime reduction and encourage use of evidence in practice. The centre:

  • identifies and labels existing research evidence reviews on crime reduction interventions and summarises these in an online Crime Reduction Toolkit. This toolkit allows users to weigh up evidence on the impact, cost, and implementation of different interventions to inform crime reduction efforts
  • conducts and commissions primary research on high priority crime reduction topics in consultation with a wide range of practitioners and decision-makers
  • supports and encourages greater research collaborations between police, academics and other criminal justice agencies and partners with a shared aim of reducing crime
  • publishes and manages a research map providing open access to summaries of ongoing relevant policing and crime reduction research
  • builds capability and understanding of the evidence base through a range of learning and development opportunities for practitioners and decision-makers

Early Intervention Foundation

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) was founded in July 2013. It is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The EIF is an independent charity with a remit to:

  • assess the evidence on which interventions work and their relative value for money
  • advise government, local councils and agencies, charities and investors on what works for whom, when
  • advocate for early intervention to important decision-makers

The EIF guidebook summarises key features of 50 Early Intervention (EI) programmes available in the UK. It provides information on programme aims, the nature of the intervention and, where available, costs and benefits.

What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth

Established in October 2013, the centre is led by Professor Henry Overman at the London School of Economics (LSE), in a consortium with the Centre for Cities and Arup. It is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Department for Communities and Local Government and the Economic and Social Research Council.

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth aims to significantly improve the use of evidence in the design and delivery of policies for local economic growth and employment, leading to more effective policies and policymaking.

The centre’s approach includes:

  • evidence reviews: review the existing evidence base relating to economic development policy areas, drawing out findings that are backed by systematic, rigorous evaluation
  • capacity building: work with policymakers and delivery partners to build their capacity to incorporate measures of policy impact into their programmes at the earliest stage
  • demonstration projects: design demonstration projects in partnership with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local councils to address particular gaps in the evidence base

Centre for Ageing Better

The Centre for Ageing Better received a £50 million endowment from the Big Lottery Fund and is due to be fully operational in late 2015.

The centre aims to identify initiatives and behavioural changes that can help people experience the opportunities and manage the challenges of ageing. This will help people feel that they are ageing well, help to prevent statutory services from becoming overwhelmed, and benefit the whole of society.

Their approach will be:

  • developing the evidence base about what works to support ageing better
  • funding projects that show promise to make a difference and helping projects with proven effectiveness to operate at greater scale
  • working with the people, organisations, business and statutory bodies that can best bring about change
  • joining up initiatives across the sectors to make sustainable and enduring change

What Works Centre for Wellbeing

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing launched in October 2014. It has 17 founding partners including Public Health England, the ESRC, government departments, the Office for National Statistics, the Local Government Association and the BIG Lottery Fund.

The centre will develop a strong and credible evidence base which will support these organisations to concentrate efforts on interventions that will have the biggest impact. The centre has commissioned a research synthesis of what works, and secondary data analysis, initially in 3 areas:

  • employment and learning
  • community wellbeing
  • culture and sport

There is also work on measuring, analysing data, definitions, and identifying areas for further research on wellbeing. The centre aims to mobilise knowledge to get evidence of what works to those areas and organisations that can use it to best effect.

More information on What Works

Follow us on Twitter @whatworksuk or contact us:

Published 28 June 2013
Last updated 30 January 2018 + show all updates
  1. Latest report details added.
  2. Updated a link.
  3. Updated links
  4. Updated information about the centres and added links to new guidance publications.
  5. Added link to new report: 'What Works? Evidence for decision makers'.
  6. Information on the new What Works Centre for Wellbeing added.
  7. Updated to include latest information on the What Works centres.
  8. Updated with more information about What Works centres for economic growth and crime reduction
  9. First published.