The UK has faced considerable labour shortages following the Brexit vote and the Covid-19 pandemic. Horticulture is one sector that has been particularly vulnerable, with fears of crops being left to rot in the fields commonly aired. In a new Evidence and Policy research article I look at the public pressure employers put on government, and indeed were invited to put on government, as post-Brexit migration policy emerged. I conclude that, in the case of horticulture, migration policy was made through the intimate entanglement of employers and political elites and that employers got what they wanted: a new seasonal guest worker visa scheme. This new scheme is unprecedented in its scale (up to 40,000 workers) and as broad as possible in scope (potentially global). However, despite this, concerns still remain over continued harvest labour shortages in 2022 and beyond.
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 Yet much of the advice provided to governments is being increasingly withdrawn from public accessibility.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.
Every day in government ministries, decisions are being made that shape the world. Literally, not figuratively. Decisions are made that can move mountains, make holes in the ground, cause buildings to appear, decide where other things can land, park or moor. This shaping involves a profession of highly trained and skilled individuals known commonly as ‘engineers’. Most engineers work in the private sector but a small fraction work in government, providing advice to policy officials and ministers. In the UK, engineers in government are a hidden species, commonly clustered into the STEM acronym. Science and engineering are often used interchangeably, which may explain why there is a body of research on science advice but nothing explicitly on engineering advice.
In addition to the common failure to distinguish between scientists and engineers in policy is the way in which science advice is commonly understood: as a regulatory function that helps monitor the presence of toxic elements in the environment, and work out what to do about them. The work of Jasanoff in her book The Fifth Branch is an example of this, and it also tends to exemplify the ‘at a distance’ approach of the majority of science advice research. Engineers aren’t normally involved in this kind of ‘regulatory science’ – in the UK at least they are involved in implementation (though of course engineering, if nothing else, is a discipline of standards, as Yates & Murphy show). Instead, discovering this new evidence for policy species took a more ethnographic moment to reveal it.
In our Evidence and Policy article, ‘Public-academic partnerships to foster use of research evidence in improving youth outcomes: findings from document analysis’, we analysed documents from 23 US PAPs aiming to improve mental health and promote well-being of youth aged 12–25 years. We found that the PAPs had diverse partnership goals including implementation and dissemination of research/evaluation evidence, information sharing, and prioritising and streamlining research processes. PAPs sustained longer than 10 years had more focused goals while PAPs 10 years or newer were engaged in more diverse goals. The majority of PAPs used journal articles, presentations and multimedia as dissemination strategies. Several PAPs had a large volume of material available online while others had very little.
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.
Elizabeth C. Long, Rebecca L. Smith, Jennifer T. Scott, Brittany Gay, Cagla Giray, Shannon Guillot-Wright and Daniel M. Crowley
Want to conduct surveys with national-level policymakers about their research use, but not sure how? We at the Research-to-Policy Collaboration offer a new measurement protocol to understand the role of science in national-level policymaking and provide lessons we learned based on our experiences surveying congressional staff in the US.
Evaluations provide important information to improve public services, but only if they yield valid and reliable findings – so we believed for a long time. Evaluation communities have therefore established certain criteria that should define evaluation quality. Yet against prior studies on evaluation utilisation, we show that evaluation quality measured by the criteria is not necessarily associated with evaluation use, but rather linked to the perception of quality and impact of the evaluation. Evaluators should adjust their communications strategies accordingly.
A couple of years ago my (Widman’s) son – who is autistic – was going to Sweden to visit family. My nephew, who is deaf, rejected getting together with my son because, after all, my son is not fluent in sign language. My nephew felt that he and my son would not have much in common nor a way to communicate – although as young kids, they were close and found a way to communicate anyway. This caused me to think about what has been going on within the disability community, or more correctly, ‘communities’, and how it got to be so siloed.
Nowhere is disability more dichotomised than within the autistic community. We have folks who celebrate neurodiversity while others eschew it. Some insist on identity-first language while others insist upon person-first. There are those who are hoping for a cure (medical model) while others embrace their autism (cultural model). Autistic culture has become less unifying than factional. If we can’t agree on how to refer to ourselves (‘autistic’ or ‘with autism’), how can we agree on anything else? The feuding is often caustic.
The implementation of public policies is a process that is as complex as its formulation, especially when we set out to solve issues in communities whose codes and languages are not shared by policymakers.
For example, Brazil is a country of continental proportions. Its population and socio-political contexts are very diverse. In the 2010 census, 305 indigenous ethnicities were identified, ranging from peoples living under voluntary isolation to groups living in major cities, spread across the 27 Brazilian states. Such diversity engenders a multitude of viewpoints about socially relevant problems, which universal public policies cannot cover without proper adaptations.
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!