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New workshops – using evidence and cost-benefit analysis to design better local growth policy

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We are all operating in an era of tightening budgets and greater scrutiny, making research, evaluation and output-focused approaches more important than ever. Over the past few months New Economy – Greater Manchester’s economic policy, research and strategy service – has been working with the What Works Centre to deliver a series of workshops for local authorities and LEPs on how to meet these demands.

The workshops take as a basis New Economy’s HM Treasury-approved Cost Benefit Analysis. The methodology identifies the fiscal, economic, and social value of project outcomes, and specifies which public agency sees this benefit. The sessions also look at the Centre’s approach to gathering evaluation evidence, and using international best practice for filtering the most robust, relevant and recent intelligence.

As a Greater Manchester-based organisation, New Economy has a lot of local evidence to draw upon. The conurbation has over twenty years’ experience of building evidence into its policy making, which has been fed into documents such as the Manchester Independent Economic Review and the Greater Manchester Strategy. It is this structured and evidenced approach that has, in part, allowed the conurbation to take the lead in areas such as devolution.

The workshops have been well attended, typically by around ten middle- or senior-level officers from a variety of backgrounds, from housing, economy, employment & skills, and from central policy teams. Sometimes they have come from one organisation and sometimes several councils from a Local Enterprise Partnership/Combined Authority area. The response has been very encouraging, providing an interactive forum where people can ask questions, challenge assumptions and share experiences in an informal and collaborative setting.

The most popular elements have been the examples of how we collect and use evidence of impact to inform strategy and service design. The first part of this process – understanding how to measure, analyse and evidence the impact of economic development interventions – is of particular interest. The workshops have also encouraged participants to think about how they can introduce evaluation in their own organisations, encourage data collection and begin a Cost Benefit Analysis methodology.

So far we have held workshops for teams at the city-region level at the Greater London Authority, at the local authority level within big cities at Westminster City Council, as well as with counties and towns, with Warwickshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council. You can take a look at the slides from one of last year’s sessions here.

In the next few months we will be working with teams in Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham and Lambeth, looking at how these methodologies play into a range of local growth policies, including business support, innovation, skills, training and placemaking. We’re very keen to do more workshops around the country. They are free, so if you’d like us to organise a session with a group in your area, do get in touch with the Centre on