We are a major funding and administrative partner in the What Works Network, which aims to provide robust research evidence to guide decision-making on £200 billion of public spending.

The network is made of up seven independent What Works Centres and two affiliate members. What Works is a UK government-led initiative to enable commissioners of public services to access independent, high quality, accessible evidence syntheses across a broad range of social policy areas.

ESRC currently invests in seven of the nine What Works Centres as well as funding other related non-What Works investments such as the UK-wide member network Alliance for Useful Evidence. Our What Works investments are always funded in collaboration with others including a range of government departments or other public bodies and are underpinned by a commitment to shared goals; strong user involvement; a rigours and transparent commissioning process; independence; and high academic quality.

ESRC-supported What Works centres enable leading social scientists to evaluate the availability and quality of evidence underpinning public policy interventions, compare the effectiveness of interventions, and advise those commissioning and undertaking interventions to ensure that their work can be evaluated effectively. They also identify research and capability gaps, working with partners to fill them.

ESRC continues to commit in the region of £2.5 million a year to its broad What Works portfolio which will reach across Britain, focusing on key policy areas including:

  • crime reduction
  • local economic growth
  • wellbeing
  • early intervention
  • poverty
  • public sector reform

- as well as understanding, improving and creating demand for the use of evidence in decision making.

Future What Works investment decisions will be guided by the ESRC What Works investment framework which places a focus on consolidating and sharing knowledge, getting evidence used and the long term place for What Works in the wider evidence ecosystem.

What Works for Crime Reduction

A consortium of eight universities, led by Professor Gloria Laycock at University College London in partnership with the College of Policing, are working together on a three-year programme of work to build more evidence on what really works in reducing crime.

The commissioned work is developing academic capacity within the UK to map the existing evidence base for crime reduction, label it for quality, cost and impact, and make it easily accessible for practitioners and decision makers.

What Works for Local Economic Growth

This centre, led by Professor Henry Overman at the London School of Economics, analyses, gathers and disseminates research evidence across a wide spectrum of interventions for local economic growth - such as employment, skills, regeneration and transport initiatives.

Primary users of the centre's outputs will be decision-makers and practitioners working in local economic partnerships, cities and local authorities, which will use the evidence to ensure the best spending decisions for their areas.

What Works Scotland: Improving public service delivery and reform

The ESRC in partnership with the Scottish Government, have commissioned a new Centre that will be led by Professor Nicholas Watson and Professor James Mitchell of Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. The centre manages a three-year programme of work to build evidence for what works in creating effective public services in Scotland.

Over the next three years WWS will work closely with Community Planning Partnerships and other stakeholders to find, create, evaluate and communicate the evidence of what works in delivering the Scottish model of public service delivery. 

What Works in Tackling Poverty

This initiative will evaluate what works in tackling poverty across a range of areas including in-work poverty, child neglect; poverty experienced by young people who live alone and poverty linked to mental health problems and physical disabilities.

Based at the Public Policy Institute for Wales at Cardiff University, these projects commenced in October 2014 and will help guide charities and policymakers on the most efficient and effective ways to assist households in poverty.

Early intervention

The government has designated the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) a 'What Works Centre' for identifying what is effective in early intervention. We have recently commissioned a number of locality based evaluation partnerships across England, in partnership with the EIF, that began their work in August 2014.

What Works for Wellbeing

We collaborated with a range of public sector organisations to develop a What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

Related initiatives

Alliance for Useful Evidence

The Alliance is a UK-wide open network and forum to champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice (in partnership with the BIG Lottery Fund and NESTA).

Project Oracle

Project Oracle is London’s first children and youth evidence hub, funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) and ESRC to improve the chances for children and young people in the capital by promoting quality evidence of what works. They do this by supporting services to improve the delivery of youth programmes and informing the funding process.