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What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, UK

Supporting local policy makers with the best evidence on what interventions work to grow their economies

The challenges of uneven economic growth, and how to address it, are a pressing policy issue across cities, rural areas and suburban communities everywhere.

Reliable evidence on what works to boost local economies can be hard to find. A quick search for evidence can yield a huge volume of material, much of which is written up as case studies, and findings can often be contradictory or confusing, and it’s not always clear which pieces to trust. It can be difficult to draw useable lessons from what’s out there.

The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, in which Arup was a partner alongside the London School of Economics and Centre for Cities, exists to support local and central government policymakers by providing clear, trustworthy summaries of what the evidence tells us. It cuts through the noise and provides authoritative summaries of what we know and how to apply that knowledge to local contexts.

Project Summary


13 evidence reviews co-produced by Arup

13,000 pieces of evidence underpinning these publications

18policy toolkits created

Over the last seven years, the Centre has focussed on giving authoritative advice on what works well, and less well to grow local economies.

Evaluating evidence pieces

During the Centre’s first phase, a huge amount of evaluation evidence – more than 10,000 pieces from across OECD countries – has been sifted and analysed, to provide policymakers with reliable evidence of what sort of interventions work when it comes to improving the growth of local areas. The Arup team were central to delivering this.

For each intervention, the following questions were asked as part of our analysis; did the policy achieve what it set out to do? and did it represent good value for money? Teams of researchers from Arup have supported by searching, sifting and scoring more than 13,000 pieces of evidence that underpin the publications produced.

As a result, we have co-produced 13 evidence reviews which summarise what we know about the evidence on the economic impact of transport, estate renewal, apprenticeships, enterprise zones and broadband and other topics.

Through engagement with Local Enterprise Partnerships and Local Authorities, evidence has been shared and disseminated to promote the importance of good evaluation of public policy.

Growing the evidence base

 In its second phase, the Centre’s focus shifted from evidence reviews towards embedding the use of robust evidence in local economic policy development, and on growing the evidence base and filling knowledge gaps by helping local policy makers to pilot, gather rapid feedback and evaluate innovative local growth policies and programmes.

The Arup team also developed and delivered a series of one-day training workshops for local and central government officers, to explain the importance of, and techniques for, robust impact evaluation how they can be applied in local policymaking.

The Centre was one of the first to be funded as part of the wider What Works Network, sponsored by the UK Cabinet Office. Made up of 9 independent What Works Centres, 3 affiliate members and one associate member, these centres cover policy areas which account for more than £250 billion of public spending. The Centre is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport and the Department for Work and Pensions.

As the Centre evolves, LSE and Centre for Cities will continue running the centres focusing on targeted, intensive one-to-one support and direct co-creation of evidence. Harnessed through strong working relationships, Arup continues to work with LSE on a variety of projects, one being the co-authored Real World Testbeds report for Nesta and our UK City Leaders Survey work with Centre for Cities continues.

Arup’s team of economic planning consultants are dedicated to delivering inclusive economic growth and regeneration. Being part of the Centre has been an utterly unique opportunity for us as a team. It has strengthened our professional credibility in economic policy by giving us a forensic understanding of the evidence base for economic interventions. It has also brought us great insight into the range of evaluation techniques out there, and which are most appropriate to our clients’ needs ” Joanna Rowelle Joanna Rowelle Director, Integrated City Planning