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How can the next government ensure better evidence use for achieving economic growth?

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economic growth

Whichever party wins this week’s election will face big challenges, including achieving stronger local economic growth. Knowing how to do this – which mix of interventions will be most effective, and where to target them to maximise their impact – will require government at all levels to base decisions on strong evidence, to ensure the most cost-effective use of public money.

In this blog, we discuss what that means and some ideas for changes to the way evidence is used at the local and central levels, to support effective growth policy around the country.

Local government

Our colleagues at Centre for Cities (CfC) recently covered Local Authority evidence use in their report L.A. Evidential. They discuss three interlinking pillars – incentives, resources, and capacity – needed to support the better use of evidence in local government policymaking.


On capacity, key recommendations include providing training to fill skills gaps in local government and central government funding to support hiring of analytical staff.  Having the right staff and skills to interpret data and evidence is vital for effective use, and to reduce overreliance on outside consultants, which can eat up budgets that could be better spent elsewhere. Having the staff and skills though won’t be enough without local authorities following processes that ensure evidence is used in policy – the Green Book five case model can be useful here, though CfC suggest it be refined to be clearer, and to mandate rather than just encourage evidence use.


Local government also need evidence resources like better data and more evaluations showing which interventions are effective. On the former CfC argue for continued work on making subnational data available, pointing to the progress already made by Oflog, ONS Local, and DLUHC Spatial Data Unit. Data that is timely, covering a wider range of issues, and of higher quality, would all be important. More evidence from evaluations could be achieved through central government coordination of evaluations of local interventions, and through expanding Oflog’s mandate to include evaluation of local policy.


More resources and the capacity to use them will not be effective without incentives for local government to use evidence. Central government has a role to play by developing an overall strategy for economic growth that sets goals for local economic development, by making clear that evidence-based approaches will be prioritised, and by following that up by providing more funding to better evidenced approaches. Reforming local government funding to allow more local tax retention – giving a greater link between local economic outcomes and spending power – and reforming local elections, could also help incentivise better evidence-based policy.

Central government

Beyond the local level, central government could also take steps to ensure good evidence underpins the national economic policies which influence local growth, building upon the UK’s existing approaches to evidence-based policy.

Civil service capacity

One important area is civil service capacity. The Institute for Government argue that policymaking can be improved through encouraging deeper subject-specific expertise among civil servants for different policy areas, by designing career structures to reward specialisation and trying to maintain broad areas of focus, even when individuals move jobs. Formalised career paths in domains like welfare, digital, or tax policy could help maintain subject-matter focus, even in moves between departments.


The same Institute for Government report also highlights the importance of accountability as an incentive in better policymaking and use of evidence. Existing mechanisms in the UK provide important checks – the National Audit Office produces valuable reports on government spending, and Parliamentary Select Committees provide scrutiny. Work from the IFG, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and Sense about Science argues that to enhance accountability, government should more consistently and thoroughly publish the evidence that they use to come to a policy decision, clearly explaining how it was used. Their evidence transparency framework gives a schematic for what good and bad evidence transparency looks like – for example why a particular intervention was chosen, and what evidence this was based on, including the uncertainties and contradictions involved.

Using the public

For the biggest or most contentious decisions, another approach is to use the public to guide policy, based on a thorough exploration of the evidence. In a different report, the Alliance for Useful Evidence (which was a project hosted by Nesta) explore the concept of ‘mini publics’ – which can vary in complexity from Citizens’ Juries run over a few days, to years-long Citizens’ Assemblies – as mechanisms to support the intersection of democracy and evidence on major decisions. These vary in design, but generally involve randomly selected, representative samples of the public who review evidence and ask questions of experts to come to a decision or recommendations. In their report, the Alliance for Useful Evidence suggest that an important part of supporting these types of groups is providing systematically reviewed evidence in clear briefing materials for the members, alongside presentations and interactions with experts.

The next government

The UK has a history of using evidence as core component of the policy process. The next government should build on this to ensure local policymakers have access to the most rigorous evidence, and have the capacity and incentives to use it, while also ensuring central government expertise and transparency are geared towards more comprehensive use of evidence-based policy.