What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Geography and Environment

Abstract

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth was set up in October 2013 as part of the What Works network to analyse which policies are most effective in supporting and increasing local economic growth.

The overall aim of the Centre is to significantly improve the use of evidence in the design and delivery of policies for local economic growth and employment - leading to more effective policies and policymaking.

This proposal covers a new phase of activity to run over a further three years. It builds on the progress made in the last six years in providing evidence synthesis, communicating the evidence base to policymakers and improving and supporting the evaluation of specific policies by both local and central government. We have learned a great deal over the past six years about how to make our work useful without losing academic rigour, and what forms of support and advice are preferred by our users. We have also built an extensive community of practice for evidence-based policy making. This experience has been invaluable in setting out our plans for the future.

The Centre is committed to helping users to access and understand the evidence about what works. During the first six years, the Centre has developed a wide range of resources to help deliver on this objective. The Centre's evidence reviews consider a specific type of evidence - impact evaluation - that seeks to understand the causal effect of policy interventions and to establish their cost-effectiveness. The Centre will undertake work to ensure that our evidence reviews continue to offer the most useful advice based on the most robust and appropriate evidence. There will be a focus on reviewing UK-specific evaluations in those policy areas where enough UK-specific studies are available.

In addition to the evidence reviews, we have also developed many toolkits which aim to inform specific aspects of policy design. They are intended to help policymakers understand how much is known about effectiveness, value for money, and key considerations associated with each approach. The Centre will further develop our toolkits to ensure that they draw on the latest evaluations available.

We are planning a range of activities aimed at getting more academic researchers involved with the work of the Centre, both topic specialists and those with expertise in specific evaluation methods and datasets.

We provide a range of evaluation resources including our 'How to Evaluate' series and evaluation case studies to help improve the capacity of policymakers to produce robust evaluation and embed the use of evidence in the policy design process. We will continue to up-date and develop the range of resources available to meet user needs.

We also run workshops about the evidence base and how to robustly pilot and test programmes and investments. We will continue the current programme, running bespoke sessions every month and open access sessions quarterly.

We will undertake additional activities to expand our capacity building work with users by:
- Funding a number of high-quality partnership evaluations;
- Better resourcing our current evaluation support offer through the establishment of a panel of evaluation experts, recruited through an open call;
- Engaging a new set of local government partners in special projects.

These activities will be funded through a new £2m Stimulus Fund. The overall aim of the Stimulus Fund will be to facilitate more direct engagement and collaboration in identifying, developing and implementing policy evaluations and other special projects in support of the Centre's strategic objectives.

The proposal identifies a number of broad thematic areas where national and local decision-makers will be in most need of new advice. We propose to address each of the thematic areas through a variety of activities.

Planned Impact

The overall aim of the WWC is to significantly improve the use of evidence in the design and delivery of policies for local economic growth and employment - leading to more effective policies and policymaking. This means that the potential beneficiaries are varied and large in number.

The direct beneficiaries include local government (Local Authorities, Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships) and central government (including our funders). The Centre's work also benefits regional bodies, executive agencies, as well as third and private sector organisations involved in the design and implementation of economic growth policy. We also contribute to projects with the broader evidence-based policy community, particularly through the What Works Network.

The Centre's main users face several challenges in the short and medium-term. LAs, CMAs, LEPs and other local actors will need to adapt to a fast-changing domestic and international context and respond to new challenges, such as Brexit, with articulated and effective economic plans (e.g. Local Industrial Strategy and Strategic Economic Plan, among others). They will be expected to contribute to improving economic growth in their areas as well as tackling the main challenges of the UK economy, such as low productivity growth and stagnant real wages, which affect the living standards of large sectors of the population.

In meeting these challenges, the Centre's users will face substantial resource constraints, making an even stronger case for an efficient use of resources based on high-quality evidence. Capacity and experience to design and implement economic growth policies, and to work across organisational or spatial boundaries varies hugely across the country.

We will address these challenges by helping policy makers access updated non-technical resources in terms of 'what works' in different policy areas, providing bespoke technical advice, and supporting evaluation plans and capacity building processes. Robust evidence and greater capacity will improve all stages of policy design; new policies will be better evaluated, and their findings will be fed back into future policy development.

To help realise these benefits the Centre will continue to develop the evidence base, communicate its lessons to users, and building their capacity to use it throughout the policy design process. We will do this by providing more of the services that our users tell us are most helpful: online resources (toolkits, blog posts, and research findings packaged in easy-to-use formats), as well as events and tailored advice. We will also continue to run training workshops covering the evidence base and ways to improve evaluation. The Centre will also seek to improve access and use of relevant secondary data sources by policymakers. The new Stimulus Fund is an important opportunity to develop greater collaboration with new partners on special projects and full-scale evaluations and to provide support for the development of evaluation plans through the new Evaluation Panel. Activities funded through the Stimulus Fund will grow the evidence base and improve the understanding of what works. In all these activities, the work of the Centre will be influenced by user demand and will respond flexibly to feedback and changing user needs.

These activities will be led by a new Head of Policy who will have responsibility for delivering our revised impact strategy. As in previous years, we aim to support our work in this area by using our established network of users and continuing to build relationships with other organisations to help maximize our impact.
 
Description We expect this project to have impacts on a number of levels, some which will have a slow burn and contribute to local growth policy in general, and others which will be more immediate. The use of evidence and evaluation is still rather new in the field of local economic growth, but the UK government is moving more quickly now to embed evaluation in its funding programmes, and we have been providing support and advice at a time when we can influence implementation. Our ability to represent the perspective of local authority officers combined with a technical expertise that many lack is starting to have influence on government evaluation frameworks, for example in the move towards central provision of data. This type of support for local authority evaluation is easy for the government to provide but would be a major undertaking at the local level. The training and advice we provide for local authorities is building our network and slowly but surely embedding the principles of evidence use and evaluation in the profession in ways which we are confident will lead to an increase in the demand for evidence and an increase in impact evaluations of local programmes.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Evaluation of the Towns Fund and Future High Streets Fund
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact We anticipate that the impact of this work on policy will be a tipping of the scales in favour of rigorous policy evaluation. The direct contact with decision makers and ability to respond to their challenges and requests in a timely manner make this most likely to influence decisions which will ultimately improve the impact of economic growth policy on the places it is designed to help, although quantifiable financial impacts will be two or more years down the road.
 
Description Government Office for Science Report, Rebuilding Britain
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact 'he prominence of participants in the GO-Science work from across a number of fields should ensure that the work reaches the audience within the government that is in a position to use its findings. Impact may be difficult to measure, but contribution to the use of evidence in our field directly and indirectly is very likely.'
 
Description Blog by Capucine Riom on how to encourage firms to carry on innovating in the COVID-19 recovery phase and beyond. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The UK's relatively poor productivity since the 2008 financial crisis is partly explained by the limited adoption of productivity-enhancing digital technologies and modern management practices. This is a particular problem amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). To better understand how firms are responding to the COVID crisis, Anna Valero and I ran a survey asking about short-term business innovation responses, namely the adoption of new technologies, digital capabilities, management practices and products. A majority of firms have innovated in response to the crisis and most firms expect these innovations to improve workforce productivity and to continue in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/what-works-to-support-business-innovation-in-the-covid-19-recovery/
 
Description Blog by Victoria Sutherland on Covid-19 and its effect on local economies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The blog outlines how Covid-19 has had a significant impact on local economies and how local policymakers can understand how their area has been affected through use of available data sources - their advantages and limitations - before developing new policies and interventions .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/using-data-to-inform-local-economic-recovery/
 
Description Blog from Danielle Mason on Bidding for freeport status 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Blog about bidding for freeport status intended to create jobs, drive investment and regenerate communities. The blogger outlines five things to think about when developing a bid to help maximise local economic benefits: make a strong strategic case; take displacement seriously; learn from past successes and failures; take tough decisions; and commit to find out whether the freeport works.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/bidding-for-freeport-status-five-things-to-think-about/
 
Description Blog from Danielle Mason on understanding inclusive growth 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The purpose of the blog was to identify effective interventions for local economic growth. If economic outcomes no longer fully capture what local partners mean by growth, does our approach need to change? Three things help to answer this question: when is economic growth 'inclusive'?; how do we deliver inclusive economic growth?; and how does inclusive growth 'go beyond' the economic?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/how-to-evaluate-inclusive-growth/
 
Description Blog from Danielle Mason on whether a new look Green Book unlock levelling up 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Green Book has never been so famous. As the Government's commitment to 'levelling up' comes under scrutiny, accusations from MPs and lobby groups of 'bias against the north' have put the Treasury's economic appraisal guidance into a spotlight usually reserved for controversial policy debates. At What Works Growth we're sceptical of these accusations. Our view is that the core economic methodology does not systematically understate benefits (or overstate costs) for projects outside London and the South East, and claims of bias directed at the economic calculations in the Green Book are wide of the mark.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/can-a-new-look-green-book-unlock-levelling-up/
 
Description Blog from Gonzalo Nunez-Chaim about assessing some of the impacts from the eat out to help out scheme on the economy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Blog outlining that the EOTHO had limited effect on footfall and recruitment and therefore suggesting that similar policies should be implemented to accelerate the economic recovery. More analysis was needed to know if the scheme was good value for money and if it created new jobs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/assessing-some-of-the-impacts-from-the-eat-out-to-help-out-scheme/
 
Description Blog from H. Overman on Benefits, costs and 'levelling' up 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Blog about transport infrastructure and its important role in the economic performance of national and local economies. It reduces transport costs for businesses and commuters, improves access to markets, fosters economic integration, and facilitates agglomeration economies. As part of the debate around transport spending, some have expressed concerns that this method is biased towards London and the South East with implications for how transport spending might exacerbate, rather than mitigate, spatial disparities. The Treasury is currently looking at whether it should reform its guidance to help address some of these concerns. The blog summarises a few of the lessons that emerge from our analysis and the implications for the broader debate on how we allocate infrastructure expenditure.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/benefits-costs-and-levelling-up/
 
Description Blog from Meg Kaufman about COVID and how to think about cities and working from home 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact There was a discussion between a dozen experts to try to understand the COVID-era dynamics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/covid-how-to-think-about-cities-and-working-from-home/
 
Description Blog from Meg Kaufman on best bets for a green local recovery 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Advice on what steps places in the UK can take with investments which help with recovery and address climate change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/can-local-green-investments-support-post-pandemic-recovery/
 
Description Blog from Nicolas Gonzalez-Pampillon on UK Plan for Jobs and what it can learn from Nevada reemployment programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact In July, the UK Government launched its Plan for Jobs. This aims to mitigate the labour market impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting, protecting and creating jobs. One of the measures announced was a doubling of the number of work coaches in Jobcentre Plus by the end of 2020. Work coaches provide tailored support to help unemployed people find a job. A programme from the US - the Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment (REA) - provides useful insights into why this £895 million investment could be important. Blog highlights the impact of the REA programme and why it was successful, and what lessons can UK can learn from the REA.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/what-can-the-uk-learn-from-the-nevada-reemployment-programme/
 
Description Blog from Nicolaz Gonzalez-Pampillon on how can programme take-up be encouraged? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Outline why take-up of new policies is low and what can be done to increase take-up and what are the lessons for policymakers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/how-can-programme-take-up-be-encouraged/
 
Description Blog from Victoria Sutherland on Strengthening WWCLEG support for evaluation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Giving details of a new Evaluation Panel to help give more support to policymakers on providing advice for local economic growth policies. The new panel members have expertise in providing practical advice and support to decision-makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/strengthening-our-support-for-evaluation/
 
Description Blog: Discussing the apprenticeships evidence base 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact To discuss with Stefan Wolter the evidence base around apprenticeships with UK experts. In particular, we wanted to understand how we might go about filling gaps in our evidence and policy knowledge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatworksgrowth.org/blog/discussing-the-apprenticeships-evidence-base-with-stefan-wolter/
 
Description Event about public sector relocation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The purpose of the event was to get input from a variety of experts on our understanding of the impact of relocating public employees using the BBC move to Salford as an example. The discussion will feed into our advice to government on this policy, and inform our forthcoming work on multipliers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Event to discuss what data sources people are using during the crisis to track economic activity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The purpose of the event was to find out what data sources people are using during the crisis to track economic recovery. We are using the discussion to inform our updated data resource for local authorities which will be published in April 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Event to review evaluation of the Eat Out to Help Out programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Evaluation challenges during the pandemic: Eat Out to Help Out as an example, 23 attendees from academia, central and local govt, private sector, and WWC. The purpose of the event was to review our evaluation of the EOTHO programme as a way of understanding the complexity of evaluation during the unique conditions of the crisis. The paper was published by CEP, with a detailed blog to outline findings relevant to WWC audience on our website in March.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Event to revisit a briefing written on public procurement as a strategy for local economic growth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Public procurement as a strategy for local economic growth, 12 attendees from academia, central and and WWC. The purpose of the event was to revisit a briefing we wrote on the topic several years ago. We are considering whether to publish again on this controversial topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Meeting to discuss the impact of working from home on local economies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The impact of working from home on local economies - discussed new work on the impact of WFH on various sectors and places with evidence from the USA and UK. The summary informed a blog on the topic, and this work continues to evolve as the pandemic continues. It is of great interest to our users.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Net zero and sustainable growth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The purpose of the event was to review a report on the topic of local investments to boost the economy and promote greener technology with experts from a variety of sectors. They helped verify and improve the messaging in the paper, which was published in December 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Review of evidence on COVID-19 and youth unemployment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose of the event was to review the evidence on strategies to reduce youth unemployment and the long term scarring that can bring. Our paper on the topic was published in September, and although we have not done a thorough survey, two local authorities have volunteered that they used its recommendations in their economic recovery planning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020