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Improving public services

How better evidence production, synthesis and use has led to greater effectiveness and efficiency in public services.

Image of a nurse at a bedside in hospital

Effective and efficient public services are of growing global importance. Increasingly, policy makers are required to scrutinise and justify their spending and use of resources using reliable, up-to-date evidence from rigorous evaluation.

Research carried out by Professor Jonathan Shepherd examined the disparity in trials in the fields of medicine and criminology. He discovered that when compared with medical trials, those in criminology were less numerous and not conducted as effectively. This is due to the evaluation of medical interventions  traditionally being led by practitioner (clinical) academics. This is not the case in criminal justice, where theory has had higher status than intervention research. Medical science has advanced in, or is closely associated, with university teaching hospitals. But links between criminology and criminal justice services are far more tenuous.

Using these findings, Professor Shepherd applied the 'medical school model' which was used to study how this evidence is generated and managed across public services.

Jonathan Shepherd’s work and personal role has had a significant impact on the UK’s ‘What Works’ movement and institutions. His longstanding advocating of bridge institutions, along the lines of NICE, to be established in comparable forms around other public services preceded moves within the 2010 Coalition government to do exactly this.

David Halpern UK Government What Works Advisor

New initiatives

From his research, Professor Shepherd recommended a series of reforms and campaigned for their implementation. This led to him being instrumental or responsible for the creation of a number of new initiatives and services:

  • The forming of the Universities' Police Science Institute (UPSI) at Cardiff University.
  • Five new What Works Centres - service specific institutions which synthesise evidence and translate it into policy guidance.
  • A UK What Works Council which enabled previously unconnected sectors to learn from each other on how better to produce and apply evidence.
  • The ‘evidence ecosystem’ – a concept which he used to evaluate all of the sectors represented in the new Council
  • The College of Policing founded in 2013, and the Probation Institute founded in 2014, the independent professional bodies for policing and probation.

The What Works Network

Made up of seven independent What Works Centres and two affiliate members, the network covers policy areas which receive public spending of more than £200 billion. These Centres are different from standard research centres as they enable policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to make decisions based upon strong evidence of what works and to provide cost-efficient, useful services.


The impact of Professor Shepherd's research findings has made radical changes in improving public services.

UPSI has helped transform neighbourhood policing and intelligence gathering both at a local and national level.

His 'evidence ecosystem' has identified system gaps, barriers and faults which are set out in his 2014 report to the Cabinet Office. This included a further series of recommendations across health and social care, education, crime reduction, better aging, local economic growth and early intervention on how this ecosystem could be improved. These have already been acted on, for example, with the introduction of a new police knowledge fund and a UK trials advisory panel.

His involvement in the College of Policing and Probation Institute have provided previously unavailable arenas in which evidence can be owned, considered and acted on by professionals in these services.

Meet our experts

Professor Jonathan Shepherd

Professor Jonathan Shepherd

Emeritus Professor in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Security, Crime and Intelligence Innovation Institute


The Group comprises medical and social scientists, economists, psychologists, academic clinicians and practitioners from across the University.