Evidence-based practice in social work is often critiqued for constraining practices by emphasising rigid methods and standardised interventions that exclude professional and clients’ experiences. Our research within disability care found rather it catalysed a dynamic interplay between local and external knowledge, as explained in our recently published Evidence & Policy article.
Seeing how governments formulate decisions is a crucial component of their ability to claim democratic legitimacy. This includes being seen to draw on the knowledge and evidence produced by their civil service policy advisers. Yet much of the advice provided to governments is being increasingly withdrawn from public accessibility.
With governments likely to benefit from a status quo that normalises withdrawal of policy processes and rationales from public view, it is important to find alternative ways to illuminate how policy officials communicate their evidence and how that evidence is used in political contexts by governments to make decisions on our behalf.
In 2017–2018, a large school district in the U.S. was threatened by the state education agency with closure of 23 struggling elementary schools unless it could improve students’ performance on state-mandated assessments. The district’s Office of Elementary Curriculum and Development immediately tried to determine which reading resources (reading programmes, assessments, online tools, book collections, and professional development supports) were available at each school and to assess their effectiveness at improving student reading proficiency. To help with this evaluation task, our research-practice team explored various options for quickly providing suitable evidence on the effectiveness of each of 23 reading resources used at one or more of these schools. We expected to find reasonable consistency across multiple sources of information that we could use to help guide the district’s actions. The results were not quite as expected.
Embedding researchers in service organisations is the latest in a long line of approaches to better link the worlds of research and practice. Embedded researchers have become particularly popular in the field of healthcare, but can also be found in education and local government. As with any new initiative, one of the big questions on people’s minds is ‘does it work’? The problem, though, is that until now we haven’t had a clear picture of what ‘it’ (i.e. embedded research) is and how those interested in the approach might design an initiative.
To address this, our research team (a diverse group including researchers and healthcare managers) set out to better understand what embedded research initiatives look like in practice and produce a practical framework for anyone involved in designing or cultivating an initiative.
They discuss the problems with current representations of disability, recent examples of policy that has failed disabled people and the changes that could be made so people with disabilities can be better supported and allowed to participate in policy making.
Caitlin Blaser-Mapitsa, Takunda Chirau and Matodzi Amisi
National evaluation policies are one way of demonstrating a willingness in government to promote the use of evidence in a systemic way. Our recently published Evidence & Policy article, ‘Policies for evidence: a comparative analysis of Africa’s national evaluation policy landscape‘, explores the relationship between evaluation policies and evaluation systems. We have found that policies are one piece of the puzzle acting to strengthen undertaking of evaluations, evidence use, and build evaluation practice in Africa.
Early intervention and prevention are ideas so sound in theory that no one would ever disagree with promoting them. Of course it is better to prevent a problem than wait until it occurs before doing something about it! Equally, better protection for women and children who are especially vulnerable to domestic and family violence is also unanimously supported. So why is violence prevention for women and children with disability so hard to achieve? Why, when it has been known for years that the risks of violence for this group are even higher than the (already high) risks for all women and children, and resources have been allocated in multiple strategies and programmes, are they still so likely to experience these harms?
One key explanation is that current ways to gather evidence for policy are too narrow and formal to capture the everyday practices, relationships and decisions that make policy and programmes work. If so, what is the alternative? Our Evidence & Policy article describes a violence prevention project that investigates the strengths and challenges of current efforts, using a case study approach and focusing on the perspectives and priorities of disabled adults and children, and of service providers.
Many countries are moving towards market-based provision of human services, with ‘quasi-markets’ in place. Quasi-markets are different to the conventional markets we are used to within our daily lives, as they require governments to play a role in helping to steer them to success. This is known as ‘market stewardship’. In our Evidence & Policyarticle, we explore the types of evidence that government uses to make decisions about how quasi-markets should run.
‘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?