Michael Sanders

Chief Executive

Michael is the Chief Executive of What Works for Children’s Social Care, joining the team in January 2019. He leads the team’s development during its incubation phase within Nesta and beyond. Prior to joining the Centre, Michael served as Chief Scientist at the Behavioural Insights Team, where he led evaluations and research projects including four evaluations for the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme, and lead analytical projects looking at decision making at the front door of children’s social care.

Michael is a Reader in Public Policy at King’s College London and an Associate Fellow at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Bristol, and completed postdoctoral study at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In his free time he watches too much television, most prominently Australian Masterchef and programmes in which crimes are solved by people other than the police.

ARTICLES

  • read more about “We’ve experienced so much more reality than other students”
    Blog

    “We’ve experienced so much more reality than other students”

    13 October 2020
    In his blog, Michael Sanders reflects on the importance of our new project encouraging care-leavers to consider higher and further education
  • read more about Machine Learning; Now is a time to stop and think
    Blog

    Machine Learning; Now is a time to stop and think

    10 September 2020
    Following the publication on our new report on machine learning in children's social care, Michael Sanders reflects on where we go from here
  • read more about New review highlights lack of evidence on homelessness and care leavers
    Blog

    New review highlights lack of evidence on homelessness and care leavers

    8 September 2020
    Following the recent publication of a systematic review of the effectiveness of 'discharge programmes' to prevent homelessness, Michael Sanders discusses why the lack of evidence about care-leavers and homelessness needs to be addressed.
  • read more about What Works and the Principal Social Worker Network join forces
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    What Works and the Principal Social Worker Network join forces

    29 May 2020
    We're delighted to share how we'll be partnering with the Principal Social Worker Network in the coming months to support those working in children's social care
  • read more about Social Workers in Schools – results, and what’s next?
    Blog

    Social Workers in Schools – results, and what’s next?

    26 May 2020
    In his latest blog, Chief Executive Michael Sanders discusses the findings of our pilot studies placing social workers in schools, and the plan to extend this study to more schools around the country.
  • read more about Are we doing enough to support care experienced young people in higher education?
    Blog

    Are we doing enough to support care experienced young people in higher education?

    19 May 2020
    Following the release of our new report on care experienced young people and higher education, Michael Sanders wonders whether we are doing enough to support these young care leavers
  • read more about New (fiscal) year, new us
    Blog

    New (fiscal) year, new us

    30 April 2020
    The new financial year marks a new beginning for What Works for Children's Social Care as an independent charity. In his blog, Michael Sanders reflects on this and our other new findings
  • read more about Autonomy and prudence – the findings from our Devolved Budgets pilot
    Blog

    Autonomy and prudence – the findings from our Devolved Budgets pilot

    3 April 2020
    Michael Sanders, Executive Director of What Works for Children's Social Care, explores some of the findings from our new report on devolving budgets to social workers in three local authorities in England
  • read more about The world turned upside down
    Blog

    The world turned upside down

    27 March 2020
    In these unusual times, Michael Sanders reflects on how our team can support the vital work of those in children's social care..
  • read more about Education interventions show ‘Signs of Potential’
    Blog

    Education interventions show ‘Signs of Potential’

    27 February 2020
    Today I’m excited to say that we’re publishing our report ‘What Works in Education for Children who have had Social Workers‘. This report is the culmination of nine months’ work from researchers at What Works for Children’s Social Care, working with data from randomised controlled trials commissioned by our sister organisation, the Education Endowment Foundation. […]
  • read more about Our review of family group meetings – what’s next?
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    Our review of family group meetings – what’s next?

    13 February 2020
    Today we’ve published a new systematic review of family group meetings. This review – which looks at all the published evidence on the effectiveness of a variety of forms of meetings that aim to involve young people and their families in decision making – has been conducted by our colleagues at Cardiff University. Its main […]
  • read more about The Ongoing Debate Around Machine Learning
    Blog

    The Ongoing Debate Around Machine Learning

    31 January 2020
    It’s been almost a year since we first announced that we would be conducting research on the use of machine learning in children’s social care. Both the topic itself, and our decision to research it were controversial.  Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that opaque algorithms processing large quantities of data – often collected […]
  • read more about A year older, a year wiser
    Blog

    A year older, a year wiser

    29 January 2020
    It’s now been a year since the permanent team at What Works for Children’s Social Care took over from the incubator team – and a year since I said on this blog that we would “Start as we mean to go on”. It’s been six months since I reported that we were off to a […]
  • read more about Numbers plus
    Blog

    Numbers plus

    19 December 2019
    This month has been dominated by numbers – polls, seat counts, demographics and so on. As someone who’s spent most of his life thinking about data and evaluation, this has been interesting to follow. Early next year, we’ll begin publishing our own numbers – the results of our study on forecasting, the indicative evidence of […]
  • read more about Why evaluate?
    Blog

    Why evaluate?

    28 November 2019
    Last week we were at the National Children and Adult Services conference in Bournemouth. As well as attending the conference, and talking with people visiting the stand of our partner the Social Care Institute of Excellence, we were pleased to host a session on the morning of the last day of the conference. The session, […]
  • read more about Across borders
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    Across borders

    30 October 2019
    With England set to face South Africa this weekend in a Rugby World Cup final that almost featured Wales, the differences between two of the nations that make up Great Britain have been at the front of coverage – and having gone to school just a few miles from the Severn Bridge, these sporting rivalries […]
  • read more about Is evidence like a GPS?
    Blog

    Is evidence like a GPS?

    30 September 2019
    This month, I was at a conference and heard an analogy of machine learning – trying to use raw computer power and a lot of data to predict what’s likely to happen next – being described as like a GPS in your car. The speaker, a sceptic about the value of this approach, said they […]
  • read more about Exploring budgets in children’s social care
    Blog

    Exploring budgets in children’s social care

    16 August 2019
    Finances are important. The role that poverty plays in family life, and in creating obstacles to effective parenting, has been highlighted by practitioners and is increasingly recognised by academic research in social work. The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is launching an anti-poverty practice guide in early September to help social workers to put […]
  • read more about Signs of Safety: a new review of evaluations by Baginsky and colleagues
    Blog

    Signs of Safety: a new review of evaluations by Baginsky and colleagues

    22 July 2019
    This month sees the publication of a research paper by Mary Baginsky, Jo Moriarty and Jill Manthorpe in the Journal of Children’s Services, assessing the existing evidence base around Signs of Safety. This review differs in its approach to the ‘realist review’ of Signs of Safety conducted by our research partners at Cardiff University, which […]
  • read more about What a difference six months makes
    Blog

    What a difference six months makes

    19 July 2019
    Six months ago this week, I walked into the What Works Centre’s office on my first day as Executive Director – excited about the work ahead, and daunted by the scale of the challenges in front of me. On the same day, we published my first blog, in which I stated our intention to “Start […]
  • read more about Here we are, the same, only a bit shorter and a bit easier on the eye
    Blog

    Here we are, the same, only a bit shorter and a bit easier on the eye

    17 June 2019
    Whenever I think about rebranding my mind is drawn back to an advert from 2008 for the Norwich Union, announcing their rebranding as Aviva, featuring famous people who had also changed their names. As Ringo Starr (formerly Richard Starkey) told us in that advert, sometimes a change in name lets us become who we really […]
  • read more about Working in Partnerships
    Blog

    Working in Partnerships

    28 May 2019
    That’s why so much of the focus of our work so far this year has been establishing a team to deliver our mission of supporting the social work profession, children and families through the provision of more and better evidence. Looking around, I’m pleased that we’ve been able to recruit such an excellent group of […]
  • read more about An innovative and large scale evaluation
    Blog

    An innovative and large scale evaluation

    10 May 2019
    A few weeks ago, the Department for Education announced the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme. This is an £84 million investment by the department in taking three models of social work practice, tested as part of the first round of the Innovation Programme – those of Leeds, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire – and supporting them […]
  • read more about The sound of silence
    Blog

    The sound of silence

    16 April 2019
    We’ve been making heavy use of this blog in the last month – we’ve published 10 blogs in that time, and we’ve been out and about quite a bit visiting several local authorities, speaking at the principal social workers network meeting in Birmingham, talking with senior social workers at Sussex university about data, and releasing […]
  • read more about Family Group Conferences – what does the evidence say?
    Blog

    Family Group Conferences – what does the evidence say?

    2 April 2019
    March saw the publication of an important study – a randomised controlled trial (RCT) carried out in the Netherlands testing the effectiveness of Family Group Conferences. This is important for two reasons. First, Family Group Conferences, which bring family members together to discuss a case and to try and posit solutions around the time (in […]
  • read more about Reporting back from our deliberative forum
    Blog

    Reporting back from our deliberative forum

    28 March 2019
    Last night we hosted a deliberative forum on machine learning at King’s College London, bringing together speakers from the worlds of data science, academia, and social work to try and shine a light on a topic which has already been the subject of a great deal of discussion. We convened the event as part of […]
  • read more about Steps on a journey
    Blog

    Steps on a journey

    20 March 2019
    A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step, followed by several more, faltering steps in quick succession. At the What Works Centre this month we’ve started doing a few small things that I hope add up to a big difference. Anna Bacchoo joined us three weeks ago as Head of Practice – […]
  • read more about “With data, as with social work practice, context is key.”
    Blog

    “With data, as with social work practice, context is key.”

    13 March 2019
    Statistics have a privileged place in a lot of people’s minds – either a positive one, because having a graph or a figure lends an element of “truth” to a piece, or makes it seem more robust, or more serious, or alternatively because they adhere to Disraeli’s belief that there were three types of lies; […]
  • read more about “You can always ignore us, and take your own road, but if you ever need us, we’ll be here”
    Blog

    “You can always ignore us, and take your own road, but if you ever need us, we’ll be here”

    14 February 2019
    It’s been a month since I started work at the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, and a month since I stated my intention to “Start as I mean to go on”, so I thought it was a good time to check back in. As my one-month anniversary at the WWC also lines up […]
  • read more about Let’s start as we mean to go on
    Blog

    Let’s start as we mean to go on

    15 January 2019
    Today is my first day as the Executive Director of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, here in our new office near Victoria station in London. As followers of our blog and newsletter will have seen, we’ve been moving quickly to put together the Centre’s team, and I’m really pleased to say we’ve […]