Fostering a robust government evaluation culture

Following the publication of our Analytical leadership: achieving better outcomes for citizens report in March 2024, we are running a series of blogs to highlight examples of strong analytical leadership in practice. Analytical leadership is a professional way of working with data, analysis or statistics that ensures the right data are available for effective policy and decision-making to improve the lives of citizens. Everyone in government can demonstrate analytical leadership, regardless of their profession or seniority by drawing on the six enablers of analytical leadership and a ‘Think TQV’ approach. 

As the first blog in this series, Catherine Hutchinson, Head of the Evaluation Task Force (ETF), talks about what the ETF has been doing to make sure that robust evidence is the driving force behind government spending decisions on policies and programmes. The ETF is all about building a culture where evidence takes centre stage, helping the government make smarter, more effective choices that really make a difference in people’s lives.  

The work of the ETF has clear relevance to our analytical leadership findings, particularly the need to ‘foster an evidence-driven culture’, ‘demonstrate transparency and integrity’, ‘invest in analytical capability and skills’, and ‘draw on analytical standards and expert functions.’   

What is the Evaluation Task Force?

The Evaluation Task Force is a joint Cabinet Office-HM Treasury unit providing specialist support to ensure that robust evidence sits at the heart of government spending decisions. Its goal is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of Government decision-making, and to improve confidence that the policies and programmes the government invests in are actually working and delivering the results that matter most. We were once described by a minister in a speech as the antidote to the “sugar rush” of policy making!

What have we been up to?

Since we got started in April 2021, the ETF has made big strides in building evaluation into government’s spending processes, supporting departments to design and deliver robust evaluations, and building capability of our civil servants to create better evidence. The ETF has advised on over 380 programmes across government valued at £202 billion, helping departments to design and deliver robust evaluations. These evaluations will go on to generate evidence in key areas of government policy. These are individual programmes we are supporting, but the real impact comes from the culture change and changes to ways of working.

How are we fostering an evidence culture?

We’re delivering a range of activities to foster a culture of robust evaluation, while also promoting transparency, collaboration, enhancing evaluation capabilities and skills, and the use of analytical standards. As well as our role with HMT making sure evidence is underpinning spending proposals we do a lot with departments

Supporting departments to design and deliver robust evaluations

  • We’ve supported 18 departments to develop and publish evaluation strategies which set out each department’s approach to evaluating programmes and building robust evidence, ensuring evaluation is integral to each department’s policy making process.
  • We are updating the Government’s major projects review, last conducted by the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit in 2019. The findings, which are expected this year, will help us identify critical barriers, and suitable projects within the £805 billion portfolio, where the ETF can make a significant difference by providing evaluation advice and support.
  • The ETF manages the Evaluation and Trial Advice Panel (ETAP) – a free service to support civil servants to develop high quality and robust evaluations. The ETAP delivers a range of services including advice surgeries, one-to-one advice, document reviews, and teach-ins. The Panel has been running since 2015 and has supported over 200 government programmes during that time, promoting the use of high quality evidence across the civil service.

Building capability of our civil servants to create better evidence

  • We have built evaluation capability across the civil service by developing and delivering the Evaluation Academy, a train the trainers programme. The Academy has so far trained more than 100 civil servants, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to pass on to colleagues to make sure evidence informs their work. These trainers have already trained over 1,100 people in their departments.
  • The ETF has published an updated 5-year What Works Strategy, which outlines the government’s approach to improving the way it uses evidence from the “What Works” network to inform decisions about public services.

Funding innovative approaches and expanding the evidence base

  • We teamed up with our HM Treasury colleagues to design and scope the Labour Markets Evaluation and Pilots Fund. The fund is providing £37.5 million to expand the evidence base on what works to improve labour market outcomes in the economy. This fund supports the generation of high-quality evidence to drive positive change in the labour market. For example, we are funding a £7.4 million pilot scheme to support AI skills for businesses announced in the recent Budget.
  • The ETF also manages the £15m Evaluation Accelerator Fund (EAF) to support a range of departments to plug key evidence gaps in priority policy areas across government such as crime, health and youth-wellbeing and supporting innovative approaches to deliver public services. The fund helps create evidence-based solutions to pressing policy challenges and encourages innovative, data-driven approaches to public service delivery.

For example, earlier this year we had our first-ever evaluation themed ministerial visit, with the Minister for the Cabinet Office (MCO) going up to West Yorkshire to know more about the EAF-funded Domestic Abuse forensic marking project, part of a programme of interventions to tackle violence against women and girls, as well as projects designed to make the most of AI and machine learning.

What are we doing next?

We’re excited to launch a new Government Evaluation Registry this month. The Registry will bring together all planned, live and completed evaluations from Government Departments in a single accessible location, providing an invaluable tool for understanding “what works” in Government. The Registry will make it easier for policymakers and practitioners to access and use analytical evidence in their work.

Longer term, we will be continuing our work on embedding evaluation into major government programmes, so that evaluation becomes part of the project delivery furniture. We will be making sure all departments publish findings on policy evaluations in a timely and transparent way – stopping people reinventing the wheel and reinventing the broken wheel too! Ultimately, our mission is to make the UK Government a world leader in evidence-based policy making.

How can you get involved?

If you’re a civil servant who wants to learn more about evidence-based policymaking or want to contribute to the ETF’s mission, consider:

  1. Get in touch with the friendly Evaluation Leads for your department and understand how you can work with them, for example by attending the sessions the Evaluation Academy trainers put on to build your skills in using evidence to inform your work.
  2. Seeking advice from the Evaluation and Trial Advice Panel (ETAP) when designing an evaluation for your policy or programme to ensure it meets the highest standards of analytical rigour.
  3. Exploring the Government Evaluation Registry (once launched later this month) to learn from the findings of past evaluations and identify opportunities for collaboration in generating and using evidence to drive better outcomes.

Our work in building an evidence-driven culture within the government is absolutely crucial for ensuring that public funds are spent effectively and efficiently, and that policies and programmes are delivering benefits. By prioritising robust evaluation and evidence-based decision-making, the government can continuously improve its services and better serve the needs of its citizens.

Please get in touch with us to find out more – – or visit our website.