12 July 2017

What Works in What Works?

The independent evaluation of the What Works Centre is published today. Gillian Hunter, Senior Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, tells us how far the Centre has come over the last 3 years and what it needs to focus on next.

​The aim of the College's What Works Centre for Crime Reduction (WWCCR) is to support practitioners and policy makers to use the best available evidence to inform decision-making, and to enhance the UK's capacity to develop and apply evidence-based approaches in this field. Today's publication of the evaluation report marks the end of the Centre's three-year academic consortium, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the College of Policing.

What progress has the College made in developing What Works over the last three years?

Some of the key achievements noted by the evaluation (which involved in-depth interviews and an online survey with police officers, Police and Crime Commissioners and Community Safety Managers) include:

In addition, the Police Knowledge Fund has been a key mechanism for bringing together police and academic researchers and the shift to degree level education is of major significance.

What changes have there been in the way research is viewed and used?

Our interviews with senior police officers demonstrated a shift between 2014 and 2016 in how research was discussed. In 2016, they made more references to research informing recent decision-making and said that greater importance was given to research by their organisations. They were also more likely to be involved in research, and in police-academic research partnerships, and were more able to identify the benefits resulting from this. 

​"….. One of the benefits is that it's about developing relationships, be it at an individual, institutional, or regional level. Now we have academic overlay in what we're doing, it's established a relationship which will grow and develop."

The surveys also showed a shift towards greater use of research and implied that more importance was now attached to using research. However, it was clear from the surveys that there were large differences between senior police officers and other ranks in their engagement with research – the former tending to have more positive attitudes to research and to use it more. For example, they were more likely to read research and use the College's resources.

"…Have any operational or strategic decisions in the past 12 months been guided by research evidence?
Yes, quite a lot actually. I've just invested a considerable sum of money in body-worn video for the force, a couple of million pounds. That was borne out of a piece of work we did with a university…."

While support from senior staff was thought to be essential for encouraging research-based practice, there were more examples given in 2016 of efforts to engage with staff from a range of roles and ranks and of these staff initiating activities to develop engagement with research. 

All police interviewees were aware of the Crime Reduction Toolkit and were willing to promote it and ensure staff were aware of it, while recognising that there were some possibilities for developing its scope, relevance and current usefulness for practice.

"…If someone is doing a piece of work to try and prevent or tackle certain things, then there's almost like a standing question about, "Have you referred to the crime reduction toolkit? Have you looked at that? If you haven't, why not?"

The evaluation found that there was no change in observations made about:

  • practical barriers to greater engagement with research
  • time constraints for keeping up to date with research evidence
  • limited resources for promoting greater engagement with research or building capability

What is the key learning for the College going forward?

The main feedback for the College from our respondents was the need to publicise where evidence-based practice had been successfully applied – to hammer home 'live examples' of its impact on practice and to demonstrate local relevance.

Strengthening the College national coordinating role was also highlighted. For example, by continuing to publicise ongoing research and, increase opportunities for collaboration by promoting sharing of research projects on the Policing and Crime Reduction Research Map. The Centre was thought to have a crucial role in linking those undertaking similar areas of research and in coordinating how research findings are translated into national policy or practice.

A further point raised by the evaluation was the confusion for some about what evidence-based practice means. The recent publication by the College of a definition of what it understands as evidence based policing should help to reduce this confusion and reinforce the need to ensure the method should be appropriate to the question being asked.

Finally, the Centre needs to address challenging investment decisions relating to sustainability of EBP. On the one hand, it is essential to continue to update the Crime Reduction Toolkit with new interventions. On the other, there remains a need for primary research about police effectiveness not only in crime reduction but across the range of police functions, without which, EBP cannot develop and thrive.

College of Policing, Director of Knowledge, Research and Education, Rachel Tuffin, said:

"We are encouraged by the findings from this report, which describes some of the key progress the College has made over the last three years in starting to embed the best available evidence in crime reduction decision-making and extending the reach of evidence-based approaches.  It is great to see the appetite for improving policing through research is increasing among our policing and crime reduction colleagues.

We recognise there is still more to do to encourage and support officers and staff to build and use research evidence in practice. We are also reassured that the recommendations made by ICPR reflect the current direction of the College's work which continues to invest in new research and in collaborations to facilitate primary studies, to co-ordinate EBP activity, build capability amongst police officers and staff and stimulate investment in EBP from other interested parties and stakeholders."

The full evaluation report can be downloaded below and further information on phases one and two of the evaluation can be found on our website.

To receive emails about related College work, please email whatworks@college.pnn.police.uk to be added to our distribution list.