Last Monday saw an event marking the 10th Anniversary of the What Works Network. This network brings together the UK’s What Works centres to help us learn from each other, coordinate activities and generally support our joint efforts to improve the use of evidence and evaluation across policy areas. As one of the founding members, this means that What Works Growth is also ten years old this year.
Looking back at one of our earliest evidence reviews on business support – and the small number of evaluations it could draw on – you can see the difference a decade makes in the efforts to improve evaluation.
Events like this are a chance to meet colleagues, past and present, from across the network. But they also give a chance to reflect on achievements to date and work still to do be done. On the day, the panel that I sat on – alongside Rachel Tuffin and Jo Casebourne – was tasked with doing that. Listening to the other speakers, and reflecting on our own experience, I was heartened by the progress we have made. Across the local economic policy areas that are our remit, I see an increasing emphasis on more consistent and rigorous evaluation of policy interventions. Among several examples, I’d particularly highlight the work that BEIS (and predecessors) have done to improve the use of randomised control trials in piloting and evaluating interventions through its large-scale growth vouchers programme and smaller scale business basics pilots. Looking back at one of our earliest evidence reviews on business support – and the small number of evaluations it could draw on – you can see the difference a decade makes in the efforts to improve evaluation.
We also see important progress in other policy areas. For example, it’s great to see the efforts that are going into setting up evaluation frameworks for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and, in particular, the support for local RCTs that is being offered as part of that funding. For areas interested in the latter, it’s not too late to apply.
Great that we are getting more evaluation and evidence, not so great if it simply sits on a shelf without changing anything.
As ever, while it’s great to highlight and celebrate progress, it’s also important to recognise that there is a long way to go. We still need much better incentives for local areas to improve evaluation as well as providing support to build capacity and coordinate across areas. And, if anything, the challenge is even bigger when it comes to embedding evidence and evaluation in the policy making process. Great that we are getting more evaluation and evidence, not so great if it simply sits on a shelf without changing anything. Improving the use of evidence is something that we plan to spend a lot more time on in the next couple of years. Our new workshop Making use of evidence launches in June to help policymakers ask questions about available evidence.
We’re planning some activities to mark our own anniversary later in the year. Please look out for details and, as always, if you’re interested in getting involved do get in touch.