Skip to main content
Civil Service

Evaluation: the icing on the cake?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A Modern Civil Service, A Skilled Civil Service, An Ambitious Civil Service

Pink frosted cake

Why evaluation is an inseparable ingredient of great policy making.

You may sometimes hear evaluation described as the ‘icing on the cake’. Some might say it is a ‘nice to have.’ In other words, once we’ve announced the shiny new policy, or a tweaked version, we can then over time, circle back to assess its effectiveness. 

This view is misguided as evaluation is in fact a crucial and inseparable ingredient of policy making. It is not the icing on the cake. It is the egg. Or the aquafaba if you are so inclined. 

Stick with me whilst I explain.

At its essence, evaluation systematically assesses and generates learning on whether a policy (or intervention, or programme) works and why. Done well evaluation enables us to understand the delivery, the impact, and the value for money of a given policy. 

We need evidence

Dr Sophie Walsh, Principal Researcher in Evaluation Strategy, Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing
Author: Dr Sophie Walsh, Principal Researcher in Evaluation Strategy, Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing

Better still, evaluation can tell us a policy does not work and delivers no value, or even that it has unintended, adverse impacts. We need this evidence to decide what we should be spending public money on. Such findings help us get down to the brass tacks of delivering more effectively for the public we serve.

So, to get back to the cake metaphor. We need to ‘bake’ evaluation into all our policies. Over time, appetites have waxed and waned for evidence of what delivers bang for buck. Yet it is arguably important that now, more than ever, our duty as civil servants is to focus on ‘what works’. 

Think about evaluation

We should be thinking about how we crack the eggs in, from the get-go. As we design, pilot, roll out and either wind down, rehash or expand policies, it is our responsibility to give our best efforts to thinking about evaluation, even in the face of political pressure to make announcements. 

Questions we could ask may sound like... What do we already know about this type of policy and how well it works? What does the UK evidence say? How about international evidence? How do we expect this policy to address the problems we have identified? What data are we routinely collecting (or can we get) to understand how the policy plays out? And what more do we need to understand its impacts and cost-effectiveness? How, and when, will we know if it ‘works’ so that we can use the findings to inform future policy decisions? 

Admittedly, this is a bit more complex than cracking in a couple of eggs or whisking up some chickpea juice. However, the best bit is that we already have the skills and tools we need. Star bakers walk amongst us. 

DLUHC’s evaluation expertise

In DLUHC, several of our evaluations have been recognised as ‘best practice’ in public policy evaluation by the Cabinet Office’s Evaluation Task Force. Our ‘top’ evaluations include those of Supporting Families, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping initiatives and the Community-Based English Language training. 

And we are committed to building on these successes. Our recently published departmental evaluation strategy sets out that despite challenges in evaluation, we are committed to better, more extensive, more routine, and rigorous evaluation across our wide-ranging portfolio. 

We will continue to work across Whitehall, Devolved Administrations and internationally with communities of experts and practitioners to promote and deliver high quality evaluations. We are ensuring our ‘cakes’ (policies) have evaluation baked in. And most importantly that we use our findings to spend public money more wisely. 

Share and find out more

Across your own networks, you might like to share this blog to convince others of the inseparable nature of evaluation from great policy making. Want to find out more? Check out the extensive resources of the Evaluation Task Force, who promote quality evaluation across government.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Ext Street FR posted on

  2. Comment by Lumispareview posted on

    Thank you sharing, very usefull

  3. Comment by Dorothy Dimer posted on

    Really thought-provoking article.