Local Economic Growth: What will Work with ‘What Works’

The government (BIS/CLG) together with the ESRC has launched this call for teams to bid for a new research ‘What Works’ centreWhat Works

The idea is plainly to learn what mechanisms are better than others in driving forward economic growth at a local level. It details the characteristics the centre will have.

  • It will be independent of Government with a clear and relevant policy focus.
  • It will undertake systematic assessment of relevant evidence and produce a sound, accurate, clear and actionable synthesis of the global evidence base which:
    • ranks interventions on the basis of effectiveness and cost effectiveness
    • shows applicability
    • shows the relative cost of interventions
    • shows the strength of evidence on the agreed scale.
  • It will produce a common currency for comparing the effectiveness of interventions.
  • and be receptive to the needs and interests of users and stakeholders in shaping a work plan.
  • It will advise those commissioning and undertaking innovative interventions and research projects to ensure that their work can be evaluated effectively.
  • and publish and disseminate findings in a format that can be understood, interpreted and acted upon.
  • Identify research and capability gaps and work with partners to fill them.

This is not a new quest, and at times the search for what works has felt a little bit like alchemy- all too often coming up with ‘ best practice example’ not based on rigorous analysis and with all the possibilities of them being fools gold. I have been a part of this being one of the organisers of an Urban Best Practice Convention and having taken part in numerous transnational projects seeking such answers.

So this announcement is encouraging news. Undoubtedly no one academic centre will have the range of expertise to win this on its own and so I am sure at present consortium building is probably under way. There is a LinkedIn page created for this project but the one thing that won’t be discussed is who is proposing to partner with whom. This is not ideal; often in building such projects at transnational level you get it 75% right but in an ideal world you would want a few iterations before you got to an ideal partner mix.  I think therefore it  is worthwhile thinking about what an ideal consortium would look like.

I would suggest that what it needs is

  • A practice based University close to delivery on the ground. These are more typically but not exclusively found in the Post 92 sector.
  • A research based University; with cutting edge researchers; often but not solely found in Russell Group Universities.
  • A thinktank/ independent research group such as CLES or IPPR who have been following the field closely for years and who can really help spread the results.
  • Possibly as well a private sector consultancy such as GHK, Shared Intelligence etc.
  • Importantly as well this needs to be tied into practice so I would suggest a large city or group of cities such as Core Cities should be included in some way.  Examples include  Manchester: hot on governance and promoting triple helix work, Birmingham on finance mechanisms and the use of procurement to drive innovation; Bristol and Glasgow on the new economy; digital and low carbon aspects.

The team need to be experienced not only in the UK but in Europe and the USA. There is recognition in the guidance that learning from elsewhere is really important. Interestingly Heseltine’s Single Pot approach and the LEP/City region approach has taken some lessons particularly from France through its Communauté Urbaine and  Communauté D’Agglomeration and the Contrat de ville It is hard to compare practice with other countries but just as using procurement to drive innovation has its routes in the USA via the EU there may well be other approaches that can be evaluated and transferred. It would also be useful to search out other such co-ordination initiatives elsewhere; one not directly comparable but interesting is the French Government DATAR centre.

Therefore I would suggest  an international University/Research institute may add value or one or more of the partners should be strongly linked internationally.

And finally given that his has to reach practitioners I think that one or more of the partners must be an exemplar in communications, both in traditional forms such as conferences, publications etc. but increasingly in such methods as social media and data visualisation. The wealth of information around the smart city debate shows the value of such approaches in simplifying and clarifying messages.

Now this is my idea of an ideal mix and there probably are not enough resources to go round to achieve this but lets see what combinations come forward. I would welcome any comments on groups/ skills I may have missed.


One comment

  1. Well the LSE together with The Centre for Cities and Arup’s won the bid. I was correct in some of my understanding of a good consortium. Further details are here http://www.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2013/07/Whatworkscentre.aspx

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