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Blog What Works

Cabinet Office

About What Works

The What Works initiative aims to improve the way government and other public sector organisations create, share and use (or ‘generate, translate and adopt’) high quality evidence in 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.

The What Works Network

The network is made up of 9 independent What Works Centres, 3  affiliate members and 2 associate members. Together these centres cover policy areas which account for more than £250 billion of public spending. What Works Centres are different from standard research institutions. Each centre is committed to increasing both the supply of, and demand for, evidence in their policy area, and their output is tailored to the needs of decision-makers. 

The centres help to ensure that robust evidence shapes decision-making at every level, by:

  • collating existing evidence on the effectiveness of programmes and practices 
  • producing high quality synthesis reports and systematic reviews in areas where they do not currently exist
  • assessing the effectiveness of policies and practices against an agreed set of outcomes
  • filling gaps in the evidence base by commissioning new trials and evaluations
  • sharing findings in an accessible way
  • supporting 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
Centre for Homelessness Impact Homelessness
What Works for Children’s Social Care Children’s social care
Affiliate: Youth Endowment Fund Youth offending
Affiliate: Youth Futures Foundation Youth employment
Affiliate: Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education Higher Education
Associate: Wales Centre for Public Policy  
Associate: What Works Scotland  

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 the What Works 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 develop policy, programmes and services in a fundamentally different way: continually testing and evaluating to improve the effectiveness of public spending. This includes:

  • providing advice to ministers and civil service leaders on what evidence shows to be cost effective in delivering policy outcomes, drawing on the  findings of the What Works Centres
  • running a Cross-Government Trial Advice Panel, with experts from across academia and government providing a free advisory service for all civil servants to help test whether policies and programmes are working
  • supporting a civil service with the skills and commitment to use evidence effectively by providing training and technical support

If you'd like to know more, contact us at and follow us on Twitter @whatworksuk.