A refreshed approach to ESRC’s strategic investment in What Works

We are a major partner in the Cabinet Office-led What Works Network, which aims to provide robust research evidence to guide decision-making on £200 billion of public spending, enabling commissioners of public services to access independent, useful, high quality evidence syntheses across a broad range of social policy areas. Our involvement has directly contributed to the success of What Works to date, raising the credibility and traction of the initiative with academics and policy makers. 

Over the last year, the context surrounding ESRC’s What Works portfolio has changed, with the creation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

This provides an opportunity to refresh the vision and objectives for our strategic investment in What Works, building on our 2016 What Works Investment Framework. The refreshed strategy articulates ESRC’s distinct stake and role in the What Works agenda, embodied in the criteria against which we will focus our resources moving forwards.

ESRC’s Vision

  • Our strategic investment in What Works harnesses the strengths of the social science research base, mobilising evidence into policy to deliver improved policymaking and public services.
  • ESRC’s leadership for the What Works approach in UKRI is recognised and valued by our stakeholders.

We will achieve this by:

  • Drawing together and building a coherent, strategic ESRC investment portfolio in What Works that is grounded in evidence.
  • Broadening the What Works approach across UKRI: facilitating partnerships with government and policy; and co-designing the approach into other programmes. 
  • Providing thought leadership, identifying and seizing potential to grow the portfolio into new areas, using new and existing funding mechanisms. 
  • Learning from our experience, evaluating what we have done so far and building evaluation into our What Works activity, and sharing best practice internationally, demonstrating our continued leadership.

As we shape our portfolio of What Works investments (existing and new) to this vision, we will be guided by ESRC’s unique role and different perspective on What Works from other funder stakeholders. Our investment in What Works is appropriate where there is focus on an area of strength for the social sciences which is currently un-tapped in terms of evidence being mobilised into policy. We want to address clear demand from policy-makers and practitioners for that evidence, and needs for new approaches, capabilities and partnerships to be built. Our ambition is for our investment in WW to contribute to original research that advances the broader evidence base on how to successfully mobilise knowledge.