‘Not wanted here’ – the bleak marginalised reality of how evidence informs employment policy for people with a learning disability in England and Wales

Kim Dearing

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘Exploring a non-universal understanding of waged work and its consequences: sketching out employment activation for people with an intellectual disability‘.

Less than 6% of working aged adults with a learning disability, who receive social care, are in any form of employment – yet studies show that 65% of this population would like to have paid work. Drawing on empirical data, collected predominantly through ethnographic work, the research presented here offers a critical assessment of the mismatch between current policy and available evidence. What this research shows is that the majority of people within this demographic are underserved or excluded from targeted work preparation support in England and Wales. As a consequence, such dismal employment rates are highly unlikely to increase, regardless of government rhetoric.

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Is equality worth measuring?

Mark Priestley and Stefanos Grammenos

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue article, ‘How useful are equality indicators? The expressive function of ‘stat imperfecta’ in disability rights advocacy‘.

Measuring equality can be difficult, especially when there is a lack of suitable data available, but it makes a difference. If a thing is worth measuring then it is worth measuring well – but even approximate indications of inequality can be useful in drawing public attention to injustices, making marginalised groups more visible and challenging policy assumptions. In a newly published article in Evidence & Policy, we argue that public investments in measuring inequalities have a social value that can’t be measured by technical perfection alone. Imperfect statistics sometimes have strong policy effects!

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Listen to people with disabilities when gathering evidence for policy

Carol Rivas

This blog post is part of a series linked to the Evidence & Policy Special Issue (Volume 17, Issue 2): The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice. Guest Edited by Carol Rivas, Ikuko Tomomatsu and David Gough. This post is based on the Special Issue Editorial, ‘The many faces of disability in evidence for policy and practice: embracing complexity’.

Everyone’s a patient’ is a refrain occasionally heard from professional health policy actors dismissive of health service user evidence; they argue that their own lived experience of a visit to the doctor’s gives them sufficient authority.  The fallacy of this is suggested by an eminent psychiatrist’s astonishment at his treatment when hospitalised with a complex leg fracture. A fleeting association with primary care does not equate with the expertise developed by those with conditions with no quick fix – chronic conditions and disabilities. The much-discussed PACE trial shows how political tensions can arise from a disconnect between researchers who make flawed assumptions and those they seek to help. 

So how can we ensure the ‘technical precision and expressive function’ of evidence meet the diverse needs, theoretical and ideological assumptions and priorities of the range of policy actors? How can we prevent procedural values-based decisions driven by political contingencies, drawing selectively on evidence, or the lack of representation or partial representation of disability diversity within evidence and policy?

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Advocates (often) make good research brokers (but sometimes don’t)

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys‘.

Jake Haselswerdt and Elizabeth Rigby

Efforts to advance evidence-based policy quickly recognise the need for ‘research brokers’ to take on the critical role of linking the separate worlds of research and policy. Research brokers work in a range of organisations to transform, translate and package complex research findings into ideas and formats that can be used by policymakers, as well as facilitate meetings and establish relationships between researchers and policymakers. These research brokers are typically engaged in shaping the policy agenda, identifying promising solutions and influencing policy decisions. Yet, we know little about who plays that role, nor how they think about the evidence-policy connection.

Of particular interest are advocates working in foundations, think tanks, associations, lobbying firms and non-profit organisations pursuing specific policy objectives. These advocates are well-positioned to serve as research brokers since they are actively involved in most policy formulation and implementation processes and policymakers often use them as an important source of information. Yet advocates are also participants in the policy process who work to advance their own positions and preferences (and those of employers/clients). Research dissemination is just one of many tools advocates use to advance their policy goals.

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Hidden coalitions: are you acting as an analyst, advocate or applicator in your approach to evidence and policy?

Jasper Montana and James Wilsdon

After a period in which the onward march of evidence-informed decision-making appeared to be faltering in countries such as the US and UK, the acute uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have triggered a fresh explosion of engagement with evidence and policy interactions – from diverse disciplinary, sectoral and institutional perspectives.

It’s become common to see this described as an evidence ‘movement’ committed to strengthening links between science and policy – and in a superficial sense it is. But such labels can obscure subtle yet important distinctions in the way different actors understand problems in evidence-policy interactions and frame potential solutions.

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Does scientific evidence capture the attention of policymakers?

Leire Rincón García

Does scientifically-backed information capture the attention of policymakers? To test this, I conducted a field experiment embedded in a real-life advocacy initiative targeted to members of the European Parliament in April 2018. As described in my Evidence & Policy article, ‘The silver bullet reversed: the impact of empirical evidence on policymaker attention’, results indicate that ideas-based information, rather than empirical information, gathers more attention from policymakers. More precisely, it is the announcement of ideas rather the actual information which manages to capture policymaker interest. Crucially, these findings hold across political groups, policy support and gender.

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Learning from 2020: Why collaboration and transdisciplinarity must mark our forward paths

Sara Bice and Martin Bortz

Today’s decision-makers need the evidence and insights of transdisciplinary research. Transdisciplinarity enriches our capacity to respond to complex problems by broadening perspectives on issues that are too complicated to be understood fully from one disciplinary angle.

COVID-19 presents an obvious example. The pandemic requires the insights and advice not only of medical and public health experts, but of policy scholars to inform government action; urban planners to model population movements and transport usage; epidemiologists to run big data models on potential virus spread; mental health experts on the implications of lockdowns and isolation; educationalists on the opportunities and pitfalls of home-schooling; behavioural psychologists on how to ensure restrictions will be accepted; the list goes on.

But how do we create diverse and effective research collaborations?

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Research brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners – how similar are they?

Jennifer Watling Neal, Zachary P. Neal and Brian Brutzman

Brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners facilitate communication between researchers and practitioners but are these various terms simply different labels for the same role? We spent the last year reviewing published articles in health, education and the environment to explore how each of these terms is defined. In short, we found that, when these terms are used, most of the time they aren’t defined. But, when these terms are defined, there are key differences in what they mean.

There’s increasing recognition that brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners play a key role in connecting researchers and practitioners. However, inconsistencies in whether and how brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners are defined make it hard to understand, evaluate and leverage these roles.

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Walking the tightrope: expert legitimacy as a navigation between technocracy and politics

Justyna Bandola-Gill

What makes experts legitimate in the eyes of policymakers? Even though this is one of the foundational questions of the interdisciplinary scholarship on evidence and policy, the answer is neither straightforward nor simple. Expert legitimacy is driven by seeming contradictions – experts have to be responsive to policymakers’ needs but, at the same time, they cannot be too close to politics. They have to provide advice which is strongly grounded in science but if their advice is too complex it risks being ignored or being perceived too ‘detached’ and ‘academic’. Experts are legitimate when they are insiders and outsiders at the same time.  This dynamic has become particularly evident in the ongoing pandemic, where government advisors have had to represent (and at times defend) science whilst at the same time accounting for what policy directions are ‘doable’ – publicly and politically acceptable and economically feasible.

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The five minute guide to evidencing research impact

Helen Allbutt and Stewart Irvine

Does research add value? How can we tell? With no mechanism to quality rate research outside of the university sector, research can be overlooked, or worse discontinued, particularly when organisations face ever-increasing pressures. In this blog, we discuss how we sought to protect our research investment by providing an evidence trail of how project findings contributed to strategic priorities. This blog covers the key points of what we did and what we found: for a fuller version, see our Evidence & Policy article, ‘Research assessment in a National Health Service organisation: a process for learning and accountability’.

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