We are committed to the principle of using robust high-quality social science to improve outcomes for citizens and the economy, and are committed to What Works as one of our principal strategic mechanisms for achieving this goal.

In 2016, our internal evaluation team undertook a high-level review of our current and future role within What Works to help shape our internal What Works strategy. It showed that ESRC has played an important part in building the credibility and traction of this potentially influential and impactful initiative amongst academics, some local decision makers and central government. There was agreement that What Works is a long-term initiative requiring sustained commitment to bring about a change in culture to get evidence used more consistently in practice to achieve better outcomes for the public.

The review made a number of conclusions which we have developed into a What Works Investment Framework. This Framework is guiding our thinking and may be useful for other organisations to use if these types of investments are planned. It has also been developed in the knowledge that our role is necessary but the roles of others are essential and need to be clear. Our support for What Works continues to be a flagship activity of ESRC and this framework outlines three areas of focus for our future role in What Works along with a set of guiding principles for any ongoing or new investment.

Focus for ESRC investment in What Works

  • Effective centres: to ensure over the longer term What Works centres have the best chance of success we should learn what we can from existing centres as well as measuring impact to assess their effectiveness.
  • Adoption of evidence: to pursue an improvement to, arguably the most critical function of the What Works centres - 'adoption of evidence' - by supporting work which facilitates better use of evidence.
  • Sustained commitment: to promote financial security of existing centres and develop a better understanding of how to embed them as a longer term feature of the 'evidence/social science' landscape.