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Evans, Mark: Evidence-based policy making

Evans, Mark

Evidence-based policy making: what Westminster policy officers say they do and why‘, The Policy Space, 16 June 2015

This article appears in a blog from the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra. It is of particular interest because of the role that history plays in the development of evidence for evidence-based policy. Nevertheless, the findings of the research reported in the article suggest evidence-based policy has a way to go.

The age of evidence in policy making is over. If, of course, it ever really existed in the first place except in highly technocratic areas of policy development. Successive Westminster politicians from Blair to Rudd and beyond continue to exalt the importance of evidence but the reality on the ground appears very different … That political considerations more often than not trump the evidence appears a regular occurrence particularly in Ministries that are heavily politicized or attract significant media attention.

The article drew on executive workshops conducted in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It found

the vast majority [of respondents] identified an ongoing tension between short-term imperative and evidence-based policy-making combined with “Ministerial indifference over the facts” … In all three countries, policy officers spent most of their time retrofitting evidence to support decisions that had already been taken.

The article found the situation varied across different types of departments, however, and it described a range of perceived barriers to introducing evidence into policy-making, some methods that were being developed, particularly in Britain, to improve the position, and some ways of improving strategic policy-making. Finally, the article listed some characteristics of strategic, innovative and evidence-based policy making.