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Solace blog

18th May 2017

Introducing a new guide on using evidence in scrutiny

Ensuring that public services, and the deployment of public resources, are evidence led, or at least evidence-informed, is vitally important, and even more so in these days of permanent austerity, deepening unsolved wicked issues afflicting society, and the emergence of public sector policy being driven by fake news, alternative facts, and post-truth narratives.

This week the Centre for Public Scrutiny, in partnership with Solace and the Alliance for Useful Evidence (supported by Nesta), launched Using evidence: A practice guide for local government scrutiny. The publication comes out of the desire of our three organisations to rebalance the discourse and establish a new tone of decision making, one that reflects the facts and evidence as best as we know them at any given point in time.

In local government we have the specific opportunity to do this through the way in which scrutiny works. The vast majority of councils in England operate a Cabinet-Scrutiny governance system, and our desire is to see this used to its greatest effect to ensure that the decisions taken to deploy resources in those councils are evidence-led.

This can happen in two ways: firstly, through the work of scrutiny itself in undertaking reviews and making recommendations to the Executive to do things differently and better, based on consideration of present approaches, and informed comparison with the evidence available, including best practice elsewhere.

And secondly, through holding the executive to account for the evidence upon which its own decision are made. It would be a very powerful driver of change in local government if the simple question “where is the evidence?” was asked of all significant decisions, and if it was able to be answered cogently, coherently, and compellingly for every decision and deployment of resources.

We don’t, in truth, expect this document to change the world; but we do want to play our part in countering the posttruth narrative, and championing the use of evidence in social policy and practice. And we expect that in doing so, councils will be better equipped to spend their resources wisely, and, most importantly of all, effect positive change and better outcomes for often the neediest and vulnerable in society. After all, that is what most people in local government, officer or politician, came into local government to do.

By Abdool Kara, Executive Leader, Local Services, National Audit Office and Solace Spokesperson on Evidence Based Policy