To understand evidence use, understand the goals of decision makers

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Justin Parkhurst

What does it mean to use evidence in policymaking? This seemingly simple question has been remarkably under-defined in all the calls for increased use of evidence. Indeed, many of those who champion ‘evidence-based policymaking’ do little to explain what it means for a policy to be evidence-based, and have trouble explaining what evidence use actually means when decision makers have multiple competing goals and social concerns. Evidence is simply seen as a good thing – and more use is better – without really considering what that means or what happens when there is disagreement around which evidence to use for what goals.

Policy scholars who study evidence, on the other hand, have approached the issue from the perspective that ‘evidence use’ can mean any number of things within a policy setting. The literature can, therefore, appear divided into two extremes: either evidence use is taken for granted to be a known (assumed to be good) thing, with little consideration of political realities, or alternatively it is seen as multidimensional, the form of which is constructed by the nature of policy ideas, processes, and interactions.

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Thought experiments with ‘fake’ research abstracts help policy makers visualise actions to be taken on evidence

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Penelope Hawe

Our university-policy maker partnership produces ‘fake’ abstracts of articles we’ve not written yet (on results we frankly don’t even know we’ve got) to loosen up thinking. It helps the team visualise pathways for policy action.

Ours is a tricky situation, politically-speaking. A health department is undertaking Australia’s largest ever scale-up of evidence-based childhood obesity programs into every school and childcare centre across the state.[1] It costs $45m. They have an electronic data monitoring system in place. It’s already telling them that targets are being met. But rather than just rest on their success, they invite a team of researchers to do a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred ethnography. It could reveal the ‘real’ story of what’s goes on at the ground level.[2]

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How educators and policy makers think differently about research

Jennifer Lawlor, Kathryn McAlindon, Kristen Mills, Jennifer Neal and Zachary Neal

Policy makers are working hard to promote the use of research in education. But, does ‘research’ mean the same thing to policy makers and educators? While this question might seem basic, it’s important to know if policy makers and educators are speaking the same language.

In this blog, we discuss the findings of our recent research article, ‘What is research? Educators’ conceptions and alignment with United States federal policies‘, published in Evidence & Policy, which has been awarded the 2019 Carol Weiss Prize.

It examines similarities and differences between educators’ definitions of research and the definitions used in US Federal education policy. Our findings show that educators tend to focus on the process and products of research, while policy definitions focus on data and outcomes.

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Beyond ‘context matters’: learning from the African evidence community

Using Evidence cover

Ruth E. Levine

‘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.

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Spain needs a legislative science advice mechanism: lessons to learn from COVID-19

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.

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