Traditionally the evaluation of economic development interventions has been treated as almost a scientific experiment: the intervention is “added” to the company and the effect can then be observed. There are many evaluations that still fall into this category: the implicit assumption being that the intervention being evaluated is the only support that the recipient companies receive.
In the context that Scottish Enterprise works in (and is partially responsible for creating) this assumption is increasingly not tenable. The “pool” of companies that are identified by Scottish Enterprise as having significant growth potential is relatively small. Once such companies are identified they tend to be given a variety of support to help them grow. This means that causality, in terms of linking a specific intervention to impacts, is difficult to be definitive about, even though this is often what senior managers, funders and policy makers want.
This presentation, set within the context of Scottish Enterprise’s business development and evaluation activities, considers some of these issues. It looks particularly at the evaluations that have been undertaken of Regional Selective Assistance one of Scottish Enterprise’s main grants used to support job creation and safeguarding and capital investment. This highlights how evaluation practice has changed yet may still have difficulties in giving policy makers what they want: a clear statement of causality. Given that this may be an unattainable goal, the presentation considers what needs to do for evaluation practice to be of greater use to policy makers.