What Works: evidence for social policy

We are a major funding and administrative partner in the What Works Network, which aims to provide robust research evidence to guide decision-making on £200 billion of public spending.

As well as two existing centres of excellence – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the Educational Endowment Foundation – the network consists of a number of new independent institutions part-funded by government, with significant support from ESRC.

What Works is a UK government-led initiative to enable commissioners of public services to access independent, high quality, accessible evidence syntheses across a broad range of social policy areas. ESRC-supported What Works initiatives enable leading social scientists to evaluate the availability and quality of evidence underpinning public policy interventions, compare the effectiveness of interventions, and advise those commissioning and undertaking interventions to ensure that their work can be evaluated effectively. They also identify research and capability gaps, working with partners to fill them.

These programmes of work will reach across Britain, focusing on key research areas including crime reduction, local economic growth, ageing better, early intervention, poverty and public sector reform in Scotland.

ESRC-supported initiatives

What Works for Crime Reduction (external website)

A consortium of eight universities, led by Professor Gloria Laycock at University College London in partnership with the College of Policing, are working together on a three-year programme of work to build more evidence on what really works in reducing crime. The commissioned work is developing academic capacity within the UK to map the existing evidence base for crime reduction, label it for quality, cost and impact, and make it easily accessible for practitioners and decision makers.

What Works for Local Economic Growth (external website)

This centre, led by Professor Henry Overman at the London School of Economics, analyses, gathers and disseminates research evidence across a wide spectrum of interventions for local economic growth - such as employment, skills, regeneration and transport initiatives. Primary users of the centre's outputs will be decision-makers and practitioners working in local economic partnerships, cities and local authorities, which will use the evidence to ensure the best spending decisions for their areas.

What Works Scotland: Improving public service delivery and reform

The ESRC in partnership with the Scottish Government, have commissioned a new Centre that will be led by Professor Nicholas Watson and Professor James Mitchell of Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. The Centre manages a three-year programme of work to build evidence for what works in creating effective public services in Scotland. Over the next three years WWS will work closely with Community Planning Partnerships and other stakeholders to find, create, evaluate and communicate the evidence of what works in delivering the Scottish model of public service delivery.

What Works for Tackling Poverty

This initiative will evaluate what works in tackling poverty across a range of areas including in-work poverty, child neglect; poverty experienced by young people who live alone and poverty linked to mental health problems and physical disabilities. Based at the Public Policy Institute for Wales at Cardiff University, these projects commence in October 2014 and will help guide charities and policy makers on the most efficient and effective ways to assist households in poverty.

Early intervention (external website)

The UK Government has designated the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) a 'What Works Centre' for identifying what is effective in early intervention. We have recently commissioned a number of locality based evaluation partnerships across England, in partnership with the EIF, that began their work in August 2014.

What Works for Wellbeing

We are collaborating with a range of public sector organisations to develop a What Works centre for wellbeing, commencing mid-2015.  

Other initiatives

Ageing better (external website)

The Big Lottery Fund is in the process of creating the Centre for Ageing Better, a £50 million hub for the gathering and application of evidence to identify what makes for a better quality of life in older age.

Future centres

The ESRC is participating in discussions for further What Works initiatives in a number of topic areas including methods and skills, international development and the environment.

Further information

Launch of What Works Centres: Cabinet Office YouTube video (25 minutes)