The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (WWG), a partnership between the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Centre for Cities, and Arup, has been awarded funding to continue for another two years by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
WWG was originally set up in October 2013 as part of the wider What Works Network, an initiative aimed at improving the way government uses evidence when developing new policies. Led by Professor Henry Overman at LSE, the purpose of WWG is to analyse which policies are most effective at supporting and increasing local economic growth, be it through raising employment, improving people’s skills, regenerating an area, or improving housing. The idea is that in an age of tightening purse strings, governments and local authorities can then use this information to prioritise funding to those projects that are most effective. Originally funded until 2017, the centre will now continue until February 2019.
Over the last four years the centre has evaluated a huge amount of evidence in order to better understand what sort of interventions actually work when it comes to improving the growth of local areas. For each intervention they asked ‘did the policy work’, i.e did it achieve what it set out to do, and ‘did it represent good value for money’?
They evaluated schemes aimed at improving access to finance, apprenticeships, broadband, business advice, employment training, estate renewal, innovation, public realm, sports and culture, and transport. They found that only half of the studies suggested that the policy intervention was having a positive impact on increasing employment.
Sometimes low cost interventions may be highly effective. For example when the Centre examined policies aimed at improving attendance to training programmes, they found that the most cost-effective measure may be simply providing people with reminder texts encouraging them to attend. Efforts are now underway to pilot and test the effectiveness of different approaches to using reminders.
As well as revealing what works, the evaluations also shined a light on the kind of policies that don’t work. For example initiatives increasing access to broadband were much more effective at improving local economic growth in urban areas than rural areas. Spending money on improving infrastructure was ineffective in many deprived areas where low skills are the problem.
Armed with a greater knowledge and understanding of the kind of schemes that are most effective at improving local growth, the centre has been busy working with central and local governments to help them understand how they can embed this evidence and knowledge into decision making.
The centre will continue this vital work over the next two years. In addition they will:
• Work with policy makers, academics and businesses to produce methods and resources that can improve the use of evidence in decision making;
• Provide one to one support to policy makers, advising them on policies to improve their local areas;
• Expand demonstrator projects to generate new evidence, showcase impact evaluation techniques, and build a network of projects;
• Update and expand their evidence resources, finding new ways to increase their use in local decision-making.
Along with the original funders, which include the ESRC, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the centre will now also be co-funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for the two year extension.
Professor Henry Overman, Director of WWG said: "We’re delighted to have been awarded this additional funding, which will enable us to build on the work we’re doing to encourage evidence-based policymaking, and to expand the network of policy-makers we work with. Our focus in the coming years will be on developing and supporting the piloting and testing of innovative new projects in partnership with both local and central government so that we can better understand what works. We will also be continuing our series of workshops for economic development teams, and would encourage anyone interested in hosting one to get in contact with us."
Dr David Halpern, the What Works National Advisor said: "Billions are spent seeking to boost economic growth. But historically it’s been very difficult for policymakers, businesses or communities – at local or national level – to find the evidence on “What Works”. Even when there is good evidence – including on what doesn’t work - it’s often buried in academic journals, or hidden in the noise of competing but poorly-evidenced claims.
"Henry Overman, and his team at the WWG, rigorously sift through these thousands of studies to pull out those based on the most robust methods, and then summarise the conclusions for the rest of us. As a result, WWG has become one of the leading members of the What Works Council, making spending more impactful and bringing evidence-based practice to the heart of local and national government."
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