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Evidently clear

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With so much of our time being dominated by the twin challenges of economic growth and deficit reduction, creating space to consider the future feels a challenge.

Decisions feel increasingly critical and problematic; harder choices are being made. For any leader the guiding hand of evidence can provide the reassuring nudge of approval.

Momentum is gathering in the promotion of evidence-based approaches to social policy.

Through the popularising of writing from the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford, or the creation of a Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson, we have seen a counterthrust against reactionary policymaking.

And while the government struggles to retain research and analytical capacity across some departments, the Cabinet Office has chosen to invest in areas such as the behaviour insight team, to push our understanding of how research can direct social policy.

Local government is quick to recognise that much policy implementation can only be done at a local level. Should we therefore also recognise that with the desire for localism comes the responsibility to ensure implementation is based upon robust evidence, but also delivers the analytics required to build the evidence of the future?

Using evidence to direct policy and commissioning decisions may increasingly seem just simple common sense, but investing in research and analysis with so many competing priorities is a difficult choice. More than ever, research needs to demonstrate its added value.

Greater collaboration, both across the sector and with academia, will help ensure the skills are in place and the knowledge flows freely.

Government investment in the ‘what works’ institutes may help, setting a standard for evaluations and effective intervention. But it will also require a cultural shift so that evidence-based policy is not seen as a threat to our existing norms but a partner of political thinking that enables us to stretch the possible and discover the better alternative.

At this year’s summit, Solace wants to explore our capacity to gain most from the pairing of robust and dynamic evidence with intuitive political direction.

Graeme McDonald is director of policy and communications, Solace

The Solace Summit will be will be the UK’s largest gathering of local authority Chief Executives and senior managers. It will be held in Coventry between 16 and 18 October.

Book your place by emailing events@solace.org.uk or phoning 0845 652 4010.  You can pay over the phone by credit card or request an invoice. FInd out more at http://solacesummit2012.wordpress.com/bookings.

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