Economic evaluation of complex social initiatives: feasible, but not practicable at present?

Mark William Pennington, Heather Dickinson, Jan Walker, Joanne Gray, Cam Donaldson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decision makers increasingly request evidence on the cost-effectiveness of social initiatives to inform roll-out and development. In practice, economic evaluation is rarely applied to social initiatives. Whilst the innate complexity of social initiatives generates challenges for economic evaluation, the difficulty is often compounded by the way in which initiatives are piloted. We examine the difficulties in undertaking economic evaluation of complex social initiatives using the recent evaluation of Budget-holding Lead Professionals, an initiative to enhance personalisation of services to children with additional needs, as a case study. We illustrate how the lack of a robust study design and the limitations of local data management structures hampered the evaluation and limited the resulting findings. We then highlight changes to the way in which complex social initiatives are piloted which would allow economic evaluation to play a greater role in their evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-20
Number of pages16
JournalSocial and Public Policy Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • economic evaluation
  • complex social initiative
  • BHLP
  • health policy


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