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Policy Research Programme Policy Research Unit - Policy Innovation and Evaluation


Published: 09 August 2022

Version: 1.0 - August 2022

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Area of Research: Policy Innovation and Evaluation

Section 1: Summary of main strands/themes for research

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) wishes to commission up to two units on Policy Innovation and Evaluation that will cover:

  • the range of policy areas in the Department of Health and Social Care; and
  • a specific focus on the evaluation and innovation needs of health improvement policies

Applicants may wish to apply for an overarching unit to resource both strands of work; or they may apply for one of the proposed units set out in the bullet points above.

These Units should consider both ‘innovation and evaluation’, providing expertise to support innovative policy development by advising how best to research and evaluate policies, and developing innovative evaluation methods.

The Units’ core expertise will support policy across: (a) the whole health and social care portfolio of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and its Arm’s-Length Bodies and/or (b) the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). Expertise should be largely methodological, rather than topic specific.

The key roles and requirements of these units will be to:

  • Develop evidence on policy, which is in development and is being piloted or tested. This will be through:
    • supporting, or undertaking, the evaluation of policy pilots, prototypes or demonstration initiatives being able to deploy a range of evaluation methodologies and techniques.
  • Deliver robust evaluation tailored to the specific requirements of policy customers. This will require:
    • expertise in evaluative designs that are effective in real world, complex, contexts and within the time and/or resource constraints that typically surround policy making; and
    • good knowledge of, and a strong profile within, scientific communities and experience of the ‘what works’ approach of evaluative research.
  • Work closely with local pilot teams, as well as DHSC officials, on the design and implementation of evaluations.
  • Provide ad-hoc support to DHSC officials on evaluation and policy innovation topics.
  • Manage active involvement of service users/carers, wherever possible, in all stages of the research process.
  • Evaluate new innovative policies against their benefit to people across the range of socio-economic groups and to those with greatest health and social care needs (the department expects this of all new innovative policies).

Other core activities will include, but are not limited to:

  • Supporting policy teams in being innovative in their thinking using robust methodologies and approaches, for instance by horizon scanning (e.g., considering other countries or sectors) for potential policy innovations in the health and care context.
  • Advising DHSC in the commissioning and management of specific ‘early-stage’ policy evaluations, including the selection of appropriate designs and measures and the identification of scientific capacity.
  • Assisting policy makers in the early stages of policy innovation by mapping existing research-based evidence (from the UK and internationally) and undertaking, or commissioning, summary reviews of this evidence where Unit staff have specialist topic expertise.
  • Contributing to the wider body of knowledge and debate on the design, methods and outcomes of policy evaluation.

Section 2: Details of policy context and background

Evidence informed innovative thinking can lead to the development of new policies and the adoption of new approaches less focused on legislation and regulation, including looking more to incentives and behavioural science. For new, sometimes very challenging policies, evidence can be limited and can lead to trying out the policy on a smaller scale before a decision whether to implement nationally.

This focus is not unique to the DHSC. The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan called for more open policy making, emphasising the need for real world testing, iteration and transparency. Test, Learn and Adapt: developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials Publication Evaluation by Haynes et al. made the case for more policy experiments. Evaluation, along with relevant approaches such as user-centred design, is a key aspect of the policy profession standards.

As the Magenta book states, evaluation plays a key role in policy design, development, and delivery and the importance of good evaluation is recognised in DHSC and across government. Commitment to evaluation has also become increasingly important in business cases and the Spending Review process.

DHSC has developed a set of ‘Policy Tests’ to help policy makers to develop effective and successful policies. The Policy Tests are a set of six questions designed as a checklist when developing policies. Two questions are particularly relevant for the work of this unit:

  • What does the evidence say?
  • Will it actually work, (and how will you know)?

Section 3: Justification for research topics

The exact research topics will depend on DHSC priorities and areas where new policy thinking needs to be tested. The Unit will need to be able to flex its work programme to adjust to these priorities as part of an iterative process. The work programme is likely to be based on a combination of both emerging policy priorities arising at different time points throughout the contract and on horizon scanning and suggestions on areas likely to be of value to DHSC and its partners, to help ‘get a head of the curve’.

Section 4: Other related research activity of which the Unit will need to be aware

There has been a rise in the testing of policy ideas early across Government. Initiatives have included the Policy Lab (focused on design-led thinking including prototyping), and more Agile Policy Making (particularly, but not exclusively, with regard to digital policy solutions).

The Unit/s will be expected to link with other Policy Research Units, where their work has implications for that area of research and/or vice versa. The Unit/s may also need to make links with the Call-off Analytical Facilities that have been commissioned to undertake rapid and urgent research as well as with wider NIHR programmes.

Section 5: Other issues relevant to this programme of research

We expect these Unit/s will have to respond to a sizable number of responsive requests to address immediate Ministerial and policy requests. Potential applicants will need to demonstrate a commitment to responding quickly and effectively to such requests, sharing expertise with DHSC including providing ad hoc advice, and taking part and leading workshops. The demand for evaluation of policy continues to grow and become increasingly intrinsic to the way DHSC operates so a commitment to support this is required.