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Apr 27, 2023 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Celebrating 10 years of the What Works Network

As a member of the What Works Network, we celebrated its 10 year anniversary at an event for supporters, members and partners on Monday 17 April 2023. Together, we reflected on what the Network has achieved and discussed how we build on this to shape the next decade and beyond. 

Here, we consider the what works approach, explore highlights from the event, and look ahead at what’s next for the Centre and the wider Network. 

Organised by Evaluation Task Force, the event aimed to:

  • Celebrate the key achievements of the What Works Centres and recognise the people who contributed to these successes.
  • Raise awareness of the What Works approach and highlight the potential for this to further improve the design and delivery of public services.
  • Create new connections between senior government leaders, policymakers, and What Works centres. 

What is the What Works Network?

The Network – which currently consists of 13 independent centres – was set up in 2013 to improve the way the government and other institutions create, share and use evidence for decision making.

A diagram detailing different What Works Centres including, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Education Endowment Foundation, College of Policing, What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, Early Intervention Foundation, What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, Centre for Ageing Better.

In 2014, the Centre for Wellbeing became part of the Network, and since then we have been accelerating and improving access to wellbeing evidence.

As part of the Network, we explore what works to improve wellbeing. We do this through:

  • Summarising, reviewing and sharing available evidence in an accessible way.
  • Finding and generating new evidence, in part through evaluations, reports and reviews.
  • Supporting the use of high-quality evidence in practice by government, business and civil society to inform wellbeing strategies, policies or practices.

Explore examples of how we put this into action in the past year.

Our approach is underpinned by our understanding of how research can be used in decision making and how to determine if particular approaches are successful. Much of our work in this area has been in collaboration with and valuable to the wider What Works Network. 

The value of a What Works approach

Implement, analyse and improve

At the event, Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the What Works Network and National Statistician, summarised why the approach of the What Works Network is so vital, “Policies should be built on knowledge… putting evidence in the hands of decision makers improves public outcomes.”

Alex Burghart MP, Parliamentary Secretary, echoed these thoughts, explaining how What Works Centres produce a “library of proven ideas to be taken off the shelf and applied”. He added that it is crucial that evidence is not only generated, but that it is used to inform effective decision making. As a collaborating Centre, we do this by increasing access to and generating wellbeing data and evidence, getting it to those who can and want to use it.

Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive of the What Works Early Intervention and Children’s Social Care), observed that What Works Centres are well placed to bridge between researchers and decision makers.

 A virtuous cycle

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation at UKRI,  spoke about the importance of communities where people are “prospering, thriving and with high wellbeing.” She identified the Network as key contributors to UK prosperity, including providing vital evidence to the Government’s levelling up mission. Leyser noted that effective policy requires the social, physical and data infrastructure to be properly networked, with overlap between research and practice, adding that “research and innovation is fuel for this virtuous cycle, and the What Works Network is a critical part of this.”

An example of this is our upcoming Policy Fellowship opportunity to understand what makes a high quality job for younger people, hosted in partnership with UKRI and Youth Foundations. 

This essential mechanism of delivery, evaluation and refinement was picked up in a panel discussion, led by Emily Lawson, Director General of the Delivery Group and Director of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, who described a “continuous cycle of learning and building back in, supported by access to data and information”. 

To continue to build on the success of the ‘feedback loop’ mechanism, panellist Henry Overman, Director of the What Works for Local Economic Growth, identified the necessity to build capacity for evidence generation and usage.

As a centre, we are building capacity by making evidence more visible, supporting the use and generation of high quality evidence and producing guides and training. Currently, specific activity includes accelerating access to wellbeing data, supporting trials to include measures of subjective wellbeing through our evaluation top up fund, supporting the VCSE sector with advice surgeries on how to gather and interpret wellbeing data, and resources such as e-learning about wellbeing.

The next 10 years

Not only did the event highlight the achievements of the Network, but it looked at the current challenges it faces, in a bid to create a potential roadmap for the next 10 years. 

Panellist Rachel Tuffin, Director of the College of Policing’s What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, looked ahead and talked about producing “a healthy pipeline” of ideas.  

The panel discussion explored possible next steps, including:

  • Providing practical tools to help make funding decisions at local levels. For example, our tailored support for local authorities.
  • Exploring more opportunities for collaboration across the Network.
  • Engaging academics and researchers more effectively and practically with the policy world.
  • Growing Practice Banks, generating ideas to be tested that are scalable and shareable. Explore our existing practice examples and use our guidance to generate your own case study.
  • Looking at what drives evidence-use in practice.
  • Increasing public accountability and transparency about decision making and efficacy by following up on departmental Areas of Research Interest (ARIs). Recently, we looked at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) published ARI.
  • Increasing evidence mobilisation through greater links between What Works Centres and their inspectorate.
  • Bursaries and other incentives for evaluation to help build capacity.

Let us know if you are conducting analysis or evaluations that use wellbeing measures so we can incorporate these insights into the evidence base.


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