Research firm brought in to improve assessment of major tech projects

Government’s Evaluation Task Force has signed a deal with Ipsos to address ‘significant lack of good quality evaluation’

Government’s Evaluation Task Force has signed up a research firm to review the “significant lack of good quality evaluation” in place for government’s biggest projects.

Ipsos has been awarded a quarter-of-a-million-pound contract to spend five months reviewing the evaluation arrangements for major government projects, which represent nearly £700bn of spending.

The company will analyse evaluation plans for the more than 200 projects in the Government Major Projects Portfolio, which brings together the government’s most ambitious, costly and – often – high-risk schemes.

The portfolio included 235 projects worth £678bn as of last March, including HS2 and the Emergency Services Network programme, according to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s latest published data. The number has since climbed to 242, according to the ETF contract.

More than half of the projects in the portfolio come from the areas of information and communications technology – which has 31 programmes worth a cumulative £37bn – and government transformation and service delivery, which has 89 projects with a collective budget of £128bn.

The research firm will identify where improvements can be made and produce practical guidance and tools to support major project teams with the design of robust evaluations.

There is a “significant lack of good quality evaluation being carried out across the GMPP”, according to the contract documents.

The documents points to reports from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, which have raised concerns about the GMPP. In December 2021, the NAO said the government could not have confidence that billions of pounds of spending in various policy areas was “making a difference”. It said just 8% of spending on major government’s projects was evaluated robustly, with 64% not evaluated at all.

The figures referenced by the spending watchdog are from a review by the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit in 2019.

The ETF, which was set up in 2021 to “deliver a step-change in the scale, quality and impact of evaluation practice in government”, said in the contract that a new review was needed “to reflect changes in the GMPP and progress in evaluation plans since the time of the previous review”.

‘Proactive and pragmatic’
Ipsos will first assess the scale and quality of current evaluation plans, reviewing information and documents collected by the ETF in December 2022 from major project teams. The market-research firm will also interview staff in these teams.

It will then identify the strengths of each project and suggest improvements that can be made.

“It is critical that the review is not only an exercise in scrutinising the current state of evaluation across the GMPP, but also generates proactive and pragmatic recommendations to improve this,” the document states.

The company will then develop guidance on best practice and tools to help major project teams raise evaluation standards across the GMPP. The practical guidance and tools will help major project teams to “understand what type of evaluation is feasible and proportionate for their project and the steps needed to deliver this”.

Ipsos will share its review approach, findings and guidance with key stakeholders including representatives from the ETF, the Treasury, the IPA, and the Cross Government Evaluation Group.

The review should provide a “rich understanding of the extent and quality of the evaluation gap for major projects and how it can be resolved”, the contract states.

It should also drive “increased awareness of what good looks like for the evaluation of major projects and the availability of tools to help meet this standard”.

The contract also states that the EFT “anticipates the toolkits and guidance developed will serve as a useful resource for those involved in developing and delivering major projects and similar projects across government”.

Tevye Markson and Sam Trendall

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