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.

Publications

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