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Setting up the Centre

Commissioned by the Department for Education, the Centre is currently being set up under two separate but jointly managed contracts, by a development team – a consortium led by Nesta and its Alliance for Useful Evidence, in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence, FutureGov and Traversum – and its research partner led by CASCADE at Cardiff University.

These contracts will run in parallel up to March 2020, by which time the Centre is intended to become a fully independent organisation, with independent legal and organisational form and sustainable financing. We will however begin to publish research findings from later this year, and have already set about sharing opportunities to get involved in the Centre’s design.

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Collaboration and engagement are central to our approach. We are working in close consultation with leaders, practitioners, children, young people, families and researchers to develop the Centre’s strategy, research priorities and future services.

The development team is working with the sector to identify what the Centre should focus on, how it should identify and share evidence, and how it should be managed and led.

The research partner is developing the Centre’s standards of evidence, outcomes framework, and research programme.


Setting up a new organisation is rarely easy. Our approach to doing so recognises this and plans to establish the Centre in three phases.

  • Phase 1 Gestation: October 2017 – June 2018
    Initial engagement work, research prioritisation, organisational design, and recruitment of the founding chair and non-exec governance structure.
  • Phase 2 Incubation: July 2018 – March 2020
    Initial research and review work. Consultation on evidence standards, outcomes and how we present evidence. Development and testing of ways of generating and sharing evidence with local authority partners. Publication of initial findings. Recruitment of and support to the executive team.
  • Phase 3 Independence: April 2020 onwards
    The development team’s role comes to an end and the Centre will begin operations as an independent and financially sustainable organisation.


The establishment of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care forms part of the Department for Education’s wider agenda to develop a culture of learning across children’s social care. This includes driving a strong evidence base through the Innovation Programme and Partners in Practice, along with recommendations identified through the new Child Safeguarding Review Panel and other key partners.

The Centre will be rooted in previous experience and insights drawn from the existing What Works Centres around how to create an effective force for evidence-informed change. It will engage the sector to develop, test and adapt new approaches to generating and sharing evidence about what works.

The Centre will join the What Works Network of seven existing independent Centres, and two affiliate members, promoted and supported by the Cabinet Office. The Network is underpinned by the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence.

Existing What Works Centres include: the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, and the Centre for Ageing Better.

Who's involved

Development team

Research partner