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This website was created by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), part of the OECD Public Governance Directorate (GOV).

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What Works Network

The What Works Network is a new initiative to improve the use of high quality evidence when government makes decisions about public services. It is one of the first times any government has prioritised evidence to inform policy and practice through a national approach.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The What Works Network is made up of six independent evidence centres covering:

  • Health and social care.
  • Educational attainment.
  • Ageing better.
  • Local growth.
  • Crime reduction.
  • Effective early intervention.

The centres cover over GBP 200 billion of public spending and their role is to summarise and share research about what works (and what doesn’t) in each thematic area for use by decision-makers in both central and local government – including service commissioners, head teachers, and elected police and crime commissioners. The centres will share findings in an accessible way and will support local practitioners to critically engage with research and apply the findings to their own contexts.

The Network’s ambition is to improve the access to and use of rigorous, high quality, independently assessed research to support decision-making at every level. A more intelligent use of evidence will result in public services that deliver better outcomes for citizens and better value for money for taxpayers.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

There was and is a need to embed the use of evidence in decision making across UK public services. In important areas like social care and education, we have too little insight into the impact of the services and programmes being provided and therefore too little insight into how best to spend shrinking public budgets. Given the number of commissioning decisions being devolved down to local areas, there is an ever greater need for available, accessible and digestible evidence to inform decisions.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The six independent centres are all delivered by different institutions from across different sectors, including civil society, academic and the private sector.

For example, the What Works centre for local economic growth is being delivered by a partnership between academia, the private sector and civil society. This combination will allow the centre to draw on academic research skills as well as expertise and networks from the private and voluntary sectors.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Public service commissioners and decision-makers, including:

Policy makers at a national and local level.
Elected members nationally and locally.
Commissioners in health, social care, young people’s services and education.
School headteachers.
Members of Local Economic Partnerships (a local governance structure responsible for cultivating local economic growth).
End users of public services who will receive better and more effective services designed with research input.

Innovation Reflections

Conditions for Success

Senior support along with support from local users. Our centres were developed with senior civil servant leadership support. Alongside this, local research users were consulted to ensure there was a demand for the new thematic centres.

Working in partnership and active engagement with stakeholders is crucial. Working closely with leading stakeholders ensures that ideas are well developed and supported and can help make proposed solutions stronger and more workable in practice.

Year: 2014
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
Call for Innovations Call for Innovations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

9 August 2014

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