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The changing role of evaluation in urban regeneration: a review of the extent to which learning takes places between successive regeneration initiatives in England

By Ian Sesnan


The transfer, or exchange, of knowledge about "what works" in urban\ud regeneration is of increasing importance because of the rise in complexity of the\ud landscape of regeneration; the competition for resources; the New Labour\ud government's drive to focus on evidence- based practice; the increasing emphasis\ud on community-led decision making and the perception that many previous\ud initiatives have not worked as well as they could have.\ud Over the 30 year period researched for this thesis, evaluations and the reports\ud arising from evaluation efforts have been the prime documented sources of\ud learning and potential learning transfer. This thesis reports and analyses a sample\ud of evaluation reports over that period and shows how evaluation has changed in\ud its nature and approach. This documentary analysis also shows how little evidence\ud there is of actual transfer of learning. However, a changing picture is shown with\ud more evidence of conscious transfer of learning being associated with more recent\ud evaluations. A wide ranging study of evaluation theory has also shown that there\ud is a general recognition that evaluation efforts have not succeeded in transferring\ud learning to the extent that they could have done. Many reasons have been found\ud and documented for this, including the timing of evaluations; the lack of base-line\ud data; the use of inappropriate indicators; the reliance on the evaluands for data;\ud the commissioning of evaluation by those who also run the programmes and the\ud failure of evaluations to address the core questions that might assist with learning.\ud This study breaks new ground by taking the documentary evidence and the\ud evidence from theory and triangulating it with stakeholder interviews from four of\ud the key programmes spanning much of that era. The interviewees are all key\ud players, not just from the programme for which they were selected, but also\ud involved in subsequent or previous regeneration programmes or similar public\ud programmes. They are from central and local government, the private and\ud community sectors, and programme management.\ud Their evidence, collected by interviews and subject to content analysis, enables a\ud new insight to be gained into how effective transfer of learning really has been.\ud This thesis demonstrates that evaluation has moved with the times and with the\ud changes in governments and governance. In the early years of the study period\ud evaluation was "top-down" and lessons tended to be written for and absorbed by\ud the commissioners of programmes (usually central government) with little\ud evidence of other forms of learning taking place. By the end of this study period,\ud for programmes such as New Deal for Communities and Neighbourhood Renewal\ud Fund, evaluation was much more pluralistic, commissioned at many levels, and\ud reported much more widely. However learning is still not focussed around these\ud evaluation efforts and much more learning is taking place in informal ways. The\ud study concludes that learning transfer has grown and developed over the years but\ud in numerous, often informal ways and that this, in itself, may raise the question of\ud not 'is learning taking place?' But 'what is being learnt?' The thesis concludes by\ud suggesting a national evaluation framework to promote knowledge exchange\ud supported by academic and other institutions. The thesis reports that at the time of\ud writing some of these structures are now in place such as the Academy for\ud Sustainable Communities

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