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UK What Works Centres: Aims, methods and contexts

What do we want to know?

The purpose of this study is to provide an overall analysis and description of the What Works Centres to improve our understanding of their work, aims and methods.

Who wants to know?

The UK What Works Network consists of nine Centres working in different areas of social policy. They are designed as intermediary organisations working to encourage and enable the use of research evidence in policy and practice decision-making. This report examines the range of approaches being undertaken by the Centres and the contexts within which they sit. It provides a means of comparing their work to support the development of existing Centres and the planning of future Centres and their equivalents. The findings may, therefore, have relevance for their funders and audiences while the report also provides a case study of a unique network of knowledge creation and mobilisation for researchers and others interested in evidence use.

What did we find?

The report provides an account of the rich range of activities taking place across the What Works Network, and how they have intervened into the pre-existing ‘evidence ecosystems’ including: building a more robust and comprehensive evidence base; raising awareness and understanding regarding the need for using evidence, and; influencing local and national policy to consider evidence more effectively. This report also identifies a number of ways that Centres are similar and different from one another, in terms of: how they perform their key functions; the extent and manner of their work outside of these key functions; and their wider strategies to engage and influence their audiences.

What are the implications?

The key themes that emerged from the comparison have relevance for existing and prospective What Works Centres, their funders and audiences, and the academic field of knowledge mobilisation. These themes are discussed in the report under the headings:

  • Activities within evidence ecosystems
  • User engagement and supporting uptake
  • Evidence standards
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Wider systems and contexts
  • Collaboration across Centres   

How did we get these results?

Data on each What Works Centre’s organisation, aims, methods and outputs were collected through interviews with the Director and/or relevant staff, internal documentation and public data sources including their websites. An analytical framework was developed to capture the data collected, to feed it back to the respective Centres to enable them to check for accuracy and completeness, and then to compare the Centres and their work as of 2017. The results of this comparison and the subsequent drafts of this report were circulated to and discussed with the What Works Network (Centre representatives and the Cabinet Office What Works Team), the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and ESRC, with further feedback invited prior to publication.

For more information please email David Gough:

This report should be cited as:
Gough D, Maidment C, Sharples J (2018). UK What Works Centres: Aims, methods and contexts. London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.  ISBN: 978-1-911605-03-4

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