What Works portfolio

What Works is a UK government-led initiative to enable decision makers in public services to access independent, high quality, accessible evidence syntheses across a broad range of social policy areas.

ESRC has a strong record of investing in evidence centres that focus on knowledge exchange with public policy stakeholders. Since 2013, ESRC has invested more than £10 million in seven What Work Centres.

Demand for evidence, data and expertise from government has increased and the type of input and evidence that policymakers require is diversifying. The What Works Centres have an important role to play in responding to some of this demand. ESRC continues to invest in a range of mechanisms that focus on knowledge exchange, ensuring the evolving needs of academics and policymakers are met.

ESRC currently invests in two What Works Centres:

Our What Works investments are funded in collaboration with others, including a range of government departments and other public bodies and they are underpinned by:

  • a commitment to shared goals
  • strong user involvement
  • a rigorous and transparent commissioning process
  • independence
  • high academic quality.

ESRC supported What Works Centres enable leading social scientists to:

  • assess the availability and quality of evidence underpinning public policy interventions
  • compare the effectiveness of interventions
  • provide actionable guidance to those commissioning and delivering services.

They also identify evidence and capability gaps, working with partners to fill them.

Previous investments have also included:

Related initiatives

Economics Observatory

ESRC supports the Economics Observatory, a collective initiative by the economic research community to answer questions from policymakers and the public about the economics of the COVID-19 crisis and the recovery.

International Public Policy Observatory

International Public Policy Observatory (IPPO) focuses on a range of policy areas, including:

  • education
  • adult social care
  • mental health
  • living online
  • community cohesion
  • the impact of the pandemic on ethnic minorities.

To address the most urgent policy needs, the IPPO crowdsource key questions and topics from policymakers and the public. IPPO is designed to cut through the vast amounts of social research and policy responses on COVID-19 and provide a searchable database of research.

Last updated: 24 June 2022

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