About What Works

The What Works initiative aims to improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use (or ‘generate, translate and adopt’) high quality evidence for decision-making. It supports more effective and efficient services across the public sector at national and local levels.

What Works is based on the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence. If evidence is not available, decision-makers should use high quality methods to find out what works.

What Works is a world first: it’s the first time any government has taken a national approach to prioritising the use of evidence in decision-making.

The What Works Network

The network is made up of 7 independent What Works Centres and 3 affiliate members. Together these centres cover policy areas which receive public spending of more than £200 billion. What Works Centres are different from standard research centres. They enable policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to make decisions based upon strong evidence of what works and to provide cost-efficient, useful services.

The centres help to ensure that thorough, high quality, independently assessed evidence shapes decision-making at every level, by:

  • collating existing evidence on the effectiveness of various policy programmes and practices;
  • producing high quality synthesis reports and systematic reviews in areas where they do not currently exist;
  • assessing how effective policies and practices are against an agreed set of outcomes;
  • sharing findings in an accessible way;
  • encouraging practitioners, commissioners and policymakers to use these findings to inform their decisions.

The current What Works Centres are:

What Works Centre Policy area
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Health and social care
Education Endowment Foundation Educational achievement
College of Policing What Works Centre for Crime Reduction Crime reduction
Early Intervention Foundation Early intervention
What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (hosted by LSE, Arup, Centre for Cities) Local economic growth
Centre for Ageing Better Improved quality of life for older people
What Works Centre for Wellbeing Wellbeing
Affiliate: Wales Centre for Public Policy
Affiliate: What Works Scotland
Affiliate: What Works Centre for Children's Social Care Children's Social Care
Affiliate: Money Advice Service Improved financial capability for individuals

The Centres are funded by a combination of government and non-government sources including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Big Lottery Fund.

The What Works National Adviser, Dr David Halpern, and his team in the Cabinet Office promote and support the independent What Works Network.

What Works across government

In addition to working with the What Works Centres, the initiative supports government to make policy in a fundamentally different way: deliberately testing variations in approach, vigorously evaluating, and stopping things that don’t work. This includes:

  • running a Cross-Government Trial Advice Panel, with experts from across academia and government providing a free service for all civil servants to help test whether policies and programmes are working
  • sharing findings from the What Works Centres across government and promoting discussion on ‘what works’
  • supporting the development of a civil service with the skills, capability and commitment to use evidence effectively
  • helping policy makers to make informed judgements on investment in services that lead to impact and value for money for citizens