‘Wouldn’t it be great if the evidence-to-policy work we’re seeing on the rise in Africa could be visible to a wider audience?’ That was the question my colleagues at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and I had on our minds in 2017, seeing the creativity and resourcefulness of a host of organisations and champions from the region as they advanced a complex agenda. Now, just a few years later, the opportunity to learn from African experiences is realised in the volume Using Evidence in Policy and Practice: Lessons from Africa, edited by Ian Goldman and Mine Pabari (Routledge, 2020). The book, which both articulates a conceptual framework for thinking about the elements of a contextually-determined evidence ecosystem and presents eight case studies about diverse experiences, adds immeasurably to the literature on evidence-informed decision making.
Are there lessons we can learn from the current response of service systems which have galvanized into action to meet the needs of children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic? How does the response of service systems affect our hypotheses about how change happens at scale?
In my professional role providing implementation support to public service systems, I’ve observed these systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with urgency and agility. The urgency is to be expected, but the agility has inspired me.
This special issue examines the relationship between disability, evidence, and policy. It considers the extent to which the demand for, production, and use of evidence in policy and practice takes account of disability perspectives. For example, disabled populations, already vulnerable, have been made more so throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlights their disenfranchisement and marginalisation in relevant policy decisions. This outcome has sparked calls to action by disability advocacy groups and coalitions in the Global North and the Global South. These current events and responses provide a window of opportunity to reassess and change some of the entrenched systems that consistently exclude vulnerable groups such as disabled populations.
Seventeen years ago, Diana Rose wrote that in mental health, user involvement was becoming ‘a technology of legitimation’ for reinforcing established powers. Seventeen years later, in examining some of the circuits and processors, Mazanderani and colleagues reveal how complex this ‘technology’ or machinery has become, and is still becoming. As though opening the doors of the machine room, the authors offer us a wealth of important insights and ideas. I’d like to share some thoughts on just a couple of them here.
Emilia Aiello, Lorenzo Melchor, and Eduardo Oliver
Eurobarometer (2014) data on public perceptions of science, research and innovation revealed the Spanish population has high expectations of the role that scientific and technological development can play in improving key public policies (e.g. health and medical care, education and skills, transport and infrastructure). Yet unlike Norway, the UK or France, the Spanish national Parliament does not have any permanent legislative scientific and technological advice mechanism to act as an independent, cross-party, proactive and accessible source to inform debate and the policymaking process. Perhaps surprisingly, Spanish political parties all seem to agree on both the positive role that evidence can play in informing effective policymaking and the need to implement an independent advisory mechanism. This has been evident throughout the multiple public debates surrounding the initiative #CienciaenelParlamento (Science in Parliament), which emerged in January 2018, with the aim of closing the gap between science and society and better engaging scientists and parliamentarians.
How are you doing? You told me how you could not stop binging on COVID-19 news. So, I am sending you something different: “Risk, uncertainty and medical practice: changes in the medical professions following disaster” by Sudeepa Abeysinghe et al. I can see you wince, complaining that a paper written about a nuclear disaster that happened 9 years earlier has nothing to do with what we are undergoing now (note: this piece was written in March-April 2020). Well, I would argue that the paper is quite relevant today because it gives us perspective on how the medical professionals stretched their roles/responsibilities in times of crisis. You told me of your deep respect for these professionals, and I believe this paper will increase your understanding of their challenges and even deepen your appreciation.
Recently I came upon this photo in a post in Twitter. I have seen it before. It’s a powerful image by Sir Luke Fields. The child and doctor at the centre, in the glow of the lamp. The child ill and exhausted. The doctor earnestly observing. Watching. Sitting. Waiting. Thinking. Previously, and again this time, I absorb this painting as a statement on the medical profession. A reminder of the solemness of their work. The gravity of life and death. The role of the family in the background, secondary and in the dark.
But then I was challenged to really look at the image. The Dad wasn’t simply in the background, he was standing in the shadows, he was stoic, he was purposefully and intently studying the doctor for signals. Only after considerable prodding, did I notice Dad’s hand comforting his distraught wife. The Mum collapsed in prayer, or distress, or both. Dad’s hand gently on her shoulder, reassuring her, or maybe channelling his energy into her prayer. Her faith. Their hope.
The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the roles that evidence and expertise can play in policy and practice. Understanding the nature of these debates, and developing tools to help decision-makers navigate them, is the focus of the Evidence & Policy community. In this post, we consider how our reflections on the field’s key insights help us understand the role evidence is playing in the UK’s response to the current pandemic:
This new blog helps make the insights within Evidence & Policy accessible to all. In this opening post, the current Editors reflect on what they feel are some of the key insights about the interplay between evidence and policy: