Building the evidence and providing hands-on support
The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (WWG) was set up in October 2013 as part of the What Works Network to analyse which policies are most effective in supporting and increasing local economic growth. We work with decision makers in central and local government to give them a deeper understanding of ‘what works’, and to improve their ability to design, implement and evaluate effective programmes.
We work hard to provide solutions for local and national policymakers through:
- Systematically reviewing the evidence base on policies for local economic growth, identifying high quality evidence and highlighting key findings on policy effectiveness and design;
- Working with, and convening events and workshops for, local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, central government and business to help them understand and make better use of evidence in designing and delivering policy;
- Improving the quality of the UK evidence base by helping to develop ‘demonstrator’ projects - local policy experiments that develop and test innovative approaches.
Over the next two years, we intend to build on the solid foundations laid since our inception. The Centre’s first three years have naturally focused on establishing the state of the evidence, and building networks and relationships with user communities. In this next phase, we will shift the main emphasis from evidence reviewing towards hands-on support for local users; and towards building the evidence base and local capacity through demonstrator projects. This shift will keep us moving towards the Centre’s long-term goals. It will also provide crucial support to local policymakers in a time of major challenge and change.
Making the evidence accessible
In our first three years we established our reputation as a centre of expertise in local economic growth and evidence-based policy making. But it has always been clear that the What Works project is a long-term endeavour.
Over the next two years we will extend our core capacity-building activities. In doing so, we will draw on lessons learnt from the past three years of experience, and from user feedback. For example: we will
- expand our series of peer-to-peer workshops to offer more in-depth sessions on particular policy areas, as well as providing our current sessions to a wider audience;
- continue to make the case for robust evaluation using a combination of:
- web-based ‘how-to-evaluate’ resources;
- bespoke workshops and outreach – through social media and our extensive networks – to raise awareness of the benefits of embedding evaluation in the policy development process;
- continue to update and expand our web-based resources (such as our evidence reviews and toolkits) which synthesise the available evidence.
Providing hands-on support to understand what works
For the next two years, we will continue and expand our efforts to build the evidence base. The most direct way to do this – while also helping support user and partner development – is through our demonstrator projects.
We know from our first three years that running these projects - whether or not they are completed - is very productive in terms of building networks and evaluation capacity. Expanding our work in this area will be a central priority in our two-year strategy, with the goal of getting more demonstrators up and running. We have increased our resource in this area to allow for more intensive support to help develop and test innovative policy approaches. In the longer run we will continue to seek additional resources to substantively increase the amount of support that we can provide to such projects.
How we will work
Building our networks and expanding our reach
Our primary audience will continue to be local authorities and LEPs, as well as government departments. But we aim to build our reputation by:
- widening our reach to more decision-makers;
- working with a wider set of supporting partners;
- expanding our range of activities to include new thematic approaches such as collaborative projects and policy roundtables;
- developing a cross-cutting programme of support for areas with devolved powers.
We will continue to up-date and expand our web-based resources (such as our evidence reviews and toolkits) which synthesise the available evidence.
Working directly with our partners and networks to ensure our work is useful
To ensure that the work of the Centre is useful to, and thus used by, policy makers the Centre operates as an open, flexible, learning organisation. Building on our experience, we will continue to:
- Allow users to help establish priorities and influence the development of the Centre through the User Panel and through continual engagement with local and central government;
- Update and expand the evidence base to reflect new evidence and emerging needs, as identified by users and experts;
- Work in partnership with local and central government, academics and other key local stakeholders including businesses and Higher Education Institutes.
We will also actively participate in the What Works Network, working with the National Advisor to develop the network and common standards; working to maintain our accreditation (including the requirement to develop metrics to allow comparison of policy areas); and participating in the evaluation of the effectiveness of the Network.
Developing expertise in evaluation in academia
We will also develop a new programme of activities to support academic capacity-building. What we learned in our first three years is that the paucity of high quality evaluation evidence is partly explained by the lack of a critical mass of academic and practice-based expertise.
To address this issue, from 2017 we will focus on getting early career researchers (ECRs) involved in project work. In our view, such practical experience (rather than more formal training) offers the greatest potential for improving academic capacity in the area of policy evaluation. We will focus on involving ECRs specifically (rather than middle or late career researchers) in order to maximise the long run impact on academic capacity.