Cover: Local Authority Commissioning

Local Authority Commissioning

Understanding the use of information and evidence by commissioners of services

Published Oct 7, 2009

by Emma Disley, Lila Rabinovich, Jennifer Rubin

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RAND Europe was commissioned by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to undertake a piece of exploratory research examining the types of data and information which Local Authorities draw upon to make commissioning decisions. The research focused on the field of community safety, crime and violence, and is based on twenty-three interviews with informants involved in commissioning at the local, regional, and central Government level. This research raises questions about what ‘counts’ as evidence about what works; our findings suggest that the label ‘good practice’ is often applied to services or interventions on the basis of professional judgment rather than evidence from evaluation. This, however, was rarely questioned by interviewees, who reported satisfaction with both the quantity and quality of information available about effective interventions.

We found that commissioning processes tend to rely upon practitioners’ informal, local knowledge of potential providers, and there is a tendency to re-commission known organisations. We highlight concerns that this may disadvantage small or new providers.

Our findings also suggest there was little evaluation of the impacts of interventions at the local level. Whilst most areas use simple ‘before and after’ information to evaluate an intervention, the data collected related mostly to throughput and process rather than outcomes; interviewees were, however, aware of the limits on their ability to carry out evaluations. We conclude the report by suggesting a number of possible tools and initiatives that could support commissioners of public services in making value for money decisions.

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The research described in this report was prepared for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and conducted by RAND Europe.

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