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Solace blog

28th January 2016

More Hard Facts and Fewer Half Truths

This year, local authorities will make decisions on spending over £95bn of public money. The fact that this is £3.3bn less than last year actually means our need for robust evidence on the best ways to get the best possible outcomes for that money is growing.

As a new practice guide from Nesta shows, good evidence can help councils generate new options, make the case for change, develop funding bids, stop wasting money on activities that are not working, better align services with ‘needs’, develop the public service workforce, develop effective campaigns and increase accountability.

Over the last three years, Solace has collaborated with the LGA to deliver an ESRC funded programme to help the sector make better use of evidence.

The initial Local Government Knowledge Navigator (LGKN) programme demonstrated[1] that:

– Councils have a wide range of evidence needs;

– There is relevant research and expertise in academia but local government fails to make the most of this;

– There are some impressive examples of collaboration but engagement is inconsistent, and often depends on existing links between individual researchers and local government officers or politicians; and

– There is a need for a change of culture in both communities and the development of more systematic approaches to achieving connectivity between them.

Its report called for action in six key areas:

– Change cultures in local government and the research community

– Stimulate demonstration projects using existing ESRC/RCUK instruments and funding

– Establish an Interactive Exchange Platform

– Create a Local Government ‘What Works?’ Centre

– Develop the instrument of ‘embedded research and analytics’ in local government

– Imagine and give voice to strategic interventions with potentially far-reaching benefits and impact.

Last year the work has been taken forward through the “Research Facilitator” role, led by Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV and her team, working to develop better connections between academic researchers and local authorities, including through:

– Establishing the web-enabled platform to better connect local government and research knowledge, with a soft launch of initial content at the Solace Summit last Autumn (

– Delivering a series of topic-themed practitioner/academic exchange workshops, sharing evidence and practical knowledge about the challenges and opportunities od devolution and the development of Combined Authorities. The workshops have been accompanied by a blog series and videos of contributions to the debates (see links to videos below)

– Developing a programme of events for new researchers and LGA NGDP graduate management trainees, with the first 24-hour event in March 2016.

– Improving our understanding of how academics seek to develop relationships and achieve impact with local government, through a survey of academics.

– Developing a number of case studies which demonstrate how effective research partnerships can have a real impact.

There is more to do. The original LGKN report was clear that “the single most important longer-term objective is for the local government community especially to develop a different scale of ambition and vision for how they can draw
on and contribute to research. They need to articulate the research needs which they have as organisations and as partners with others, and in respect of the communities they serve, focused around a practical agenda of interventions and development. They should promote a strategic agenda built on long-term relationships and a sustainable funding model, drawing on the existing examples available from overseas. The aim should be ultimately to achieve success ‘at scale’ around a much longer-term agenda.”

We are working to fulfill this ambition, in partnership with the ESRC, Solace, the LGA, and LARIA. In the next few weeks, we will be inviting SOLACE chief executives to highlight their priority areas for research. Where could robust evidence and research make the biggest contribution to innovation? For example…Working with troubled families? Helping disadvantaged people into employment? Health and social care integration issues? Reducing the volume of waste our citizens and businesses create?

This week Solace and Nesta are running a masterclass on the use of evidence, complementing their recently published excellent “practice guide to using research evidence” which is available here:

[1] See LGKN’s final report, “From Analysis to Action: Connecting Research and Local Government in an Age of Austerity”

By Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV & ESRC/LGA/Solace Local Government Resource Facilitator