Government – guidance

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.

In July 2011 we made a commitment to investigate the creation of a ‘NICE for social policy’ in the Open Public Services white paper. This idea was developed in the Civil Service Reform Plan, and we launched the What Works initiative in March 2013.

Read the What Works? Evidence for decision makers, first report from the What Works Network, published in November 2014.

The initiative is based on the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence on both what works and what does not work.

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. Together these centres cover policy areas which receive public spending of more than £200 billion. They help to ensure that policy makers, practitioners and commissioners can make informed decisions based on impact and cost effectiveness.

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 policy-makers 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

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 evidence-based decision making across government. This includes:

  • 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 provide guidance based on strong, thorough evidence to inform health spending and clinical decisions. It has gained a reputation for independence and objectivity.

Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation

The Sutton Trust, in partnership with Impetus Trust founded the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2011. It is funded through a Department for Education endowment.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent grant-making charity that aims to break the link between family income and educational achievement. The Sutton Trust/EEF have produced a toolkit that ranks interventions by cost and impact, based on high quality evidence, and 45% of school leaders now say they use the toolkit. EEF is currently running 74 trials with more than 2,000 participating schools, to generate further evidence for their toolkit.

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 funded by the College of Policing and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The Centre aims to find the best available evidence on how to reduce crime. The What Works Centre for Crime Reduction:

  • reviews research on practices and interventions to reduce crime
  • organises the evidence base in terms of quality, cost and impact
  • provides Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and other crime reduction stakeholders with the knowledge, tools and guidance to target their resources more effectively

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.

EIF assesses evidence to find the best early intervention practices and their relative value for money. It uses this analysis to advise local authorities, charities and potential investors on how to implement early intervention programmes most effectively for children and families.

The EIF is working with 20 local authorities to select and evaluate interventions using EIF guidelines.

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 analyses which policies are most effective in supporting and increasing local economic growth.

The Centre is developing projects with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities and central government, to help build skills and fill gaps in the evidence base.

Centre for Ageing Better

The Centre for Ageing Better is due to be fully operational in 2015. It is commissioned and funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

The Centre has a remit to identify, apply and promote evidence of what makes for a better quality of life in older age. Its aim will be to empower current and future generations to stay active, healthier and happier for longer.

What Works Centre for Wellbeing

A new What Works Centre for Wellbeing is being set up to gather and share evidence on what works to improve wellbeing in society. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Public Health England and other partners, including government departments.

Initally research will concentrate on what works for wellbeing in relation to work and learning, communities, cultural and sporting activities. The results will help government and other organisations make decisions informed by evidence on what really matters for the wellbeing of people, communities and the nation.

More information on What Works

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