Increasing the reach of the What Works network

At Wales Centre for Public Policy we’re part of the UK’s What Works network. It’s a group of 13 (and counting) Centres aiming to improve the use of evidence in decision-making in various policy areas from education, to policing, to wellbeing.

We think we’ve got a lot to share with the rest of the What Works network, and that there’s a great deal that we, Welsh public services, and Welsh Government can learn in exchange. That’s why we invite other What Works Centres to visit Wales, such as recent visits from EEF’s Professor Jonathan Sharples, and the Centre for Ageing Better’s Anna Dixon.

It’s also why we’ve been working on an ESRC-funded project designed to increase the impact of the What Works network in the UK, by fostering collaboration among What Works Centres and improving the reach of the What Works network in devolved nations.

As part of the project, we collaborated with Queen’s University Belfast, What Works Scotland, and the Alliance for Useful Evidence to host a series of What Works events in Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff and Newport.

These events brought together What Works Centres and local policy makers and practitioners to share evidence on topics such as youth homelessness, early years, youth mental health, children and young people’s outcomes, and local economic performance.

We also held a roundtable in London with senior representatives from What Works Centres, the ESRC, Cabinet Office, and devolved administrations, hosted by the Alliance for Useful Evidence, where we shared what we’d learnt from this project and discussed what more we can do to increase the impact of the What Works network across the UK.

We learnt a lot from running this project, and in particular:

  • There are potential benefits for What Works Centres in engaging with different parts of the UK, including the opportunity to test the applicability of evidence in different contexts and to exploit divergence as a source of comparative analysis and trials.
  • Although most What Works Centres have a remit to work UK-wide and there are great examples of successful work in devolved nations, What Works Centres face a number of challenges in engaging with devolved nations, including lack of funding and lack of knowledge about different policy contexts.
  • There is an appetite for What Works evidence in devolved nations, with the summits attracting over 300 participants across Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, many of whom were not aware of What Works Centres prior to the events and who found the summits highly useful.
  • What Works Centres value collaboration with other Centres and the summits provided an opportunity for them to work together. Examples of collaboration include pooling resources by funding joint pieces of research and sharing experience and advice, especially with new Centres.

We’re keen to continue working together with other What Works Centres, and our next project on developing implementation across the network aims to build on what we’ve learnt through this project to encourage further learning between the network and our partners in Wales.