Government to try 'crowd sourcing' key policies to see 'What Works'

Evidence-based guidelines will examine which initiaties work in bid to save £2bn a year

It is, one might think, what a good Government would be doing anyway.

But after years of policy disasters and U-turns for ministers of all parties, the Coalition is to establish the first network of bodies to examine which government initiatives actually work – and which do not.

Based on the model of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which provides evidence-based guidelines on all aspect of healthcare to the NHS, the new institutions will extend the concept to four other areas of policy.

Initially these will be promoting local economic growth, crime reduction, early intervention in childhood and keeping the elderly healthy for longer. They will be linked up into a network along with Nice and the Educational Endowment Foundation, which assesses education policy. Together the "What Works" network will examine policy areas amounting to £200bn of government spending.

If successful, further centres looking at other areas of government spending – including welfare – could be created. The centres, which will be independent of Government, will collate published evidence on the effectiveness of policies – both in this country and abroad – and carry out their own research. Unlike civil service policy advice to ministers the What Works centres will publish all their findings and recommendations as well as recommend further research work that needs to be done. Ministers believe that together the centres could save up to £2bn worth of ineffectual spending every year. The scheme is due to be launched today by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and Policy Minister Oliver Letwin. Writing ahead of the launch, Mr Alexander said Nice pioneered the use of solid evidence in making decisions – and its success could be replicated elsewhere.

"In deciding whether a treatment should be made available, Nice is required to consider whether it delivers good value for money and helps the NHS meet its goals for delivering high quality care," he said.

"For patients, it means that when their doctor prescribes them a drug or a treatment, they know that the decision has been informed by the best possible evidence.

"However, we need to go much further by expanding the amount of evidence we collect and use to make sure that public services can draw upon a wide-ranging evidence base.

"At a time when the public finances are stretched and more savings will be required across government, it is more important than ever that public money is invested smartly on services that deliver the best results and real value for money for the taxpayer."

Mr Letwin added: "The What Works network will support commissioners and decision-makers at every level of Government – from head teachers and local police chiefs, to ministers and civil servants. A decade from now, we'll wonder how we ever did without it."

The move is a component of the Civil Service Reform plan unveiled by the Coalition last June and the Open Public Services White Paper of July 2011.

Funding for the network, which is expected to cost around £4m, will be partly from the Government with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council. The Big Lottery Fund, which distributes National Lottery good-cause money, is the sponsor and principal funder of the centre for ageing better.

Four to tackle: targeted policy areas

Crime: In 2004 the Home Office modelled the impact of proposed criminal justice interventions on crime levels and concluded it would result in 15 per cent fewer crimes. But the government later said 80 per cent of the fall was due to economic, not criminal justice, factors.

Growing old: A big burden to the NHS is the cost of elderly people in hospital unnecessarily. Spending money to prevent things like falls would be cost effective, but right now there is no way to know which interventions are effective.

Local economic growth: Labour set up Regional Development Agencies to promote economic growth but they never fulfilled their potential and were scrapped.

Early years intervention: Labour introduced Sure Start centres, but critics claimed they were monopolised by the middle classes. The new body will identify children at risk.

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