You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

The use of evidence in commissioning children’s services

A rapid review

Limited rights - contact Davy Jones
Published: September 2012


To identify what is currently known about how children’s services commissioning is conducted and, in particular, what role evidence plays in commissioning.


How the commissioning process for children’s services is conducted

Several reports on the perspective of voluntary sector providers are particularly critical of the commissioning process. Their main criticisms relate to: inconsistency of practice within and between local authorities; lack of focus on outcomes; and poorly managed monitoring and evaluation. However, there is some optimism that commissioning practice has improved since the Commissioning Support Programme started in 2008. What is largely absent from the literature is the perspective of commissioners themselves and how commissioning is actually carried out.

The importance of ‘evidence’ in the commissioning process

Although there is a range of advice and encouragement to commissioners to use evidence, the distinct lack of research describing how commissioning is actually carried out means we cannot be confident in saying whether or how they do so. Some researchers have identified a gap between the rhetoric of evidence-based policy and what actually happens on the ground. They argue that national policy is not primarily based on evidence and those implementing policy at a local level may choose to be informed by sources other than evidence.

Barriers to, and facilitators of, evidence-based decision making

Some of the barriers to evidence-based decision making are on what is traditionally thought of as the ‘supply’ side e.g. researchers failing to address questions commissioners want answered and then not presenting it in such a way that is accessible and useable. However, much evidence that is relevant to commissioning is more likely to be generated by local authorities themselves e.g. assessments of need, and providers of services i.e. service user feedback.

Evidence-based decision making appears likely to be facilitated by:

  • Leaders who value evidence
  • An organisational learning culture and outcomes focus
  • High quality, easy to access research summaries
  • Use of evidence embedded in the planning, delivery and evaluation cycle.


  • Literature review

Read the report