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What Works in Westminster Palace – Evidence Week 2018

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A photograph of the Houses of Parliament shortly after sunset.

I’m really excited to be attending Evidence Week in Parliament next week. The four-day event will bring together MPs and peers, parliamentary services and people from all walks of life across the UK to talk about why evidence matters.

I’m looking forward to going to the Houses of Parliament to hear passionate citizens, academic experts and government workers give their view of why evidence matters and how to handle it. Evidence Week is a brilliant opportunity for MPs to engage with their constituents on the evidence around things that really matter to them, whether it’s beekeeping, adult education, health supplements or sports.

The message that robust, empirical evidence – the kind we champion in the What Works Team – isn’t just for medical researchers and scientists couldn’t be more timely. Just as robust research and empirical trials have transformed medicine over the past 60 years, they can do the same for other parts of government policy.

A firm challenge from government's most influential scientists.

In an article in Nature this week, an all star cast (including the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, the head of the Civil Service’s Policy Profession, the new Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation and other influential leaders) firmly set a challenge for academics and policymakers to make better use of evidence.

The good news is that government departments have already started taking up the gauntlet:

The Green Book, central government's official guidance on policy appraisal and evaluation, has  recently been updated and republished with a new focus on using evidence of what works. Around a dozen departments have published their Areas of Research Interest, inviting solutions from the research community on their most wicked problems. Policy teams continue to make use of the outputs of the What Works Network, which celebrated its fifth birthday this year. And across government we've seen empirical methods helping to make real headway in solving some of these tricky issues, from reducing teenage traffic accidents to finding out what works to reduce reoffending.

A recent example is MHCLG’s first ever randomised controlled trial, which was published in March. The study provided vital evidence for the new Integration Strategy and its focus on English language classes. It also proved that it’s possible to produce useful, rigorous evidence even for complex policies.

Evidence Week sends out the message that studies like this are really important not just to technocratic policy teams and academics, but to the individuals they affect.

If you’re interested in finding out how data, experiments and cold hard facts can help government, organisations and individuals make a positive and meaningful difference, you can sign up to attend many of the events at Westminster Palace this week, and subscribe to this blog.

Evidence week is an initiative of Sense about Science, the House of Commons Library, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

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