Two months into my secondment at the Cabinet Office and I’m still enjoying the walk to work from Westminster tube. Crossing Parliament Square each morning is such a wonderful way to start the day. I hope I still feel that same buzz of pride and inspiration a year from now.
I’ve just joined the What Works team on secondment from Cancer Research UK and although there are differences between the organisations, there are more similarities than I expected:
- Everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming 😊
- People seem to be keen on keeping fit and healthy, I’ve already been inspired to go for a lunchtime run
- On the whole, people are really motivated to use evidence to inform their decision making
Scale is probably the biggest difference. At Cancer Research UK, the Health Evaluation and Research team I used to lead is responsible for evaluating much smaller scale projects funded to the tune of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, in the civil service we’re dealing with significantly larger budgets.
The breadth of work comes a close second. At Cancer Research UK our team managed projects spanning social marketing campaigns like our Obesity campaign (which you may have seen if you passed through Westminster tube during January), surveys to measure cancer awareness among the general public and health professionals, and our GP Facilitator Programme, which provides practical support to health professionals working in cancer. My What Works brief extends across ALL government departments. In the last few weeks I’ve encountered projects on policing, crime prevention, fisheries/marine management, education, housing supply, and wellbeing, to name a few!
Government also appear to like a Theory of Change. I’ve seen more reference to it in the past two weeks than in my entire nine years at Cancer Research UK.
Over the next 18 months I’ll be testing out strategies that try to encourage government departments to generate more of their own evidence, identifying ways to build evaluation capability, create more opportunities for evaluation, and strengthen motivation.
Our Trial Advice Panel, which I now coordinate, is a great way of helping teams build further capability. This free-to-use panel of internal and external experts provides advice on any aspect of evaluation, helping teams work through common challenges such as selecting the most appropriate methods given various practical constraints. From what we’ve seen so far the panel can add a lot of value, helping to:
- embed a culture of evaluation within teams/departments
- design appropriate evaluation in more complex policy areas
- advise departments when evaluation is not a good use of funds
- raise awareness of evaluation methods and approaches
- encourage academics to make their research more policy relevant
Access to good data and data linkage is clearly a significant challenge in government. It’s also something we continue to grapple with at Cancer Research UK. But with the setup of data labs like the Justice Data Lab, new ones under development, and initiatives like the Administrative Data Research Partnership, let’s hope it’s only a matter of time before this improves. And I’m keen to do whatever I can to help.