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Wicked problems

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We are gearing up to visit two places – Grimsby and Wakefield – that have agreed to work with us on the practical implementation of evidence-based policy as part of a new project. For that project, with funding from the ESRC, we will be working in partnership with the local areas and with other What Works centres: Aging BetterCrime and PolicingEducation Endowment Foundation, Early Intervention FoundationNICE, and Wellbeing. While the WWCs have been providing advice to policy-makers within our own fields, this will be the first time that we have all worked together.

We are hoping that a collaborative approach between the WWCs and places will allow us to prioritise our advice across different policy areas thus helping make it more practical and able to address the most pressing local issues.

The project is focusing on places where deprivation and social problems compound the problems from a lack of economic growth. Social problems act as a barrier to improving economic outcomes while poor economic outcomes act as a barrier to tackling social problems.

There are a number of places in the UK facing a vicious circle which, heavily over-simplified, goes like this: poor educational attainment > lack of labour market opportunities > unemployment > poverty > health problems > lack of school readiness > poor educational attainment. Substance abuse, domestic violence, crime and social isolation make things worse. Where should intervention start to solve this complicated set of challenges?

Grimsby and Wakefield are all too familiar with these ‘wicked problems’. We will be using our evidence bases to suggest feasible interventions which offer achievable improvements across all of these policy areas. We are asking Grimsby and Wakefield to help inform and respond to our recommendations with their knowledge of the situation on the ground.

There will be no quick fix for the problems these places face. Their problems have been decades in the making, and a variety of solutions have been tried and failed. Our goal is therefore modest in scale. We are hoping that working across policy areas will produce useful, implementable, advice for Grimsby and Wakefield, as well as lessons for other places in the UK with underperforming economies.

We’ll be reporting on our process and findings over the next few months. In the meantime, there is more information about the project on our website. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.