Evidence, data and numbers must be built into the DNA of Whitehall, it was asserted at this week’s launch of a new government initiative to improve the use of experiments and trials in public policy.
Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister said that “Government must become more rational”, hence the new ‘What Works
’ centres which will draw on research to test whether policies on crime, local economic growth, ageing, health and schools are valid.
There will be:
a Crime Reduction Centre, overseen by the College of Policing, which will tender for academic partners with the ESRC in Summer 2013
a Centre for Local Economic Growth, which will receive £1m over 3 years, partly from the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC)
a Better Ageing Centre which will receive Big Lottery Funding (tbc)
an Early Intervention Foundation which will receive £3.5m of government funding over the next 2 years.
The Cabinet Office will oversee a wider ‘What Works’ network comprising the four new centres and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence
, which already advises the NHS on the cost effectiveness and scientific standing of new drugs and treatments and the Sutton Trust’s Education Endowment Foundation, which assesses education policy.
The Network will be chaired by a national adviser (to be appointed) who will advise ministers and also explore the merits of creating a role of government chief social scientist.
At the launch Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said the centres would put a premium on quantitative skills. RSS getstats has been helping the ESRC, Nuffield Foundation, British Academy and the Higher Education Funding Council launch initiatives to improve social science students’ grasp of statistics.
Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) which hosted the launch, said “Both public service professionals and policy makers are becoming more aware that the effectiveness of what they do depends on evidence.”.
Against a backdrop of the potential challenge evidence can pose to ministers and commentators - if, for example, it shows that pet schemes or cherished ideas just don’t work - it’s good to see that decision makers in government are looking to ensure the validity of existing and future government policies and to measure their effectiveness.