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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 identified major disparities between randomised trials in healthcare and these trials in education, policing, social work and other sectors. He discovered that in the 20th Century, numbers of trials in healthcare increased exponentially only in healthcare and far outstripped those in all other fields combined. This is due to the evaluation of medical interventions traditionally being led by practitioner (clinical) academics.

This is not the case in criminal justice for example, where theory has had higher status than rigorous evaluation. Medical science has transformed medical practice as a result of the integration of medical schools and university hospitals. But in policing, for example, practice is far removed from criminology and other relevant university disciplines.

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, and through the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the Centre for Global City Policing at University College London
  • fourteen 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 concept of the "evidence ecosystem" to connect evidence generation, synthesis, translation into guidance and implementation in policy and practice
  • the College of Policing founded in 2013, the Probation Institute founded in 2014, and the Chartered College of Teaching founded in 2017 - new independent professional bodies in these sectors

The What Works Network

Made up of independent What Works Centres and affiliate members, the network covers policy areas which receive public spending of more than £200 billion annually. These Centres work across the evidence ecosystem to ensure that public services are effective and efficient.


Professor Shepherd's research has prompted major improvements in 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 UK 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 recognition that professional bodies like the medical Royal Colleges play a major role in advancing service standards prompted him to convene the 2013 professions summit on evidence at the Institution of Civil Engineers. He initiated and wrote the evidence declaration signed in 2017 at the Royal Society by 27 professional bodies in healthcare, education and policing.

Meet our experts

Professor Jonathan Shepherd

Professor Jonathan Shepherd

Professor Emeritus in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery


Related links

Related documents

Evidence and Guidance for better Public Services.pdf

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